How stereotypes about dinosaurs gave way in the last decade of discovery | New
Dinosaurs hold a huge place in the imaginations of many children, and for some it’s an obsession that they never quite come out of.
My passion for dinosaurs came much later in life. As a reporter in Hong Kong, I had the chance to interview some of China’s foremost paleontologists and marvel at amazing fossils as the country emerged at the forefront of paleontology’s greatest discoveries.
Science has transformed our understanding of these fantastic creatures over the past two decades in ways that surprise and delight.
I’m Katie Hunt, replacing Ashley Strickland – and in this edition of Wonder Theory, I take you on a deep dive into the dinosaurs.
What do you remember the dinosaurs from childhood books or from “Jurassic Park”? That dinosaurs were towering, greyish-green evolutionary failures?
New research is changing what we thought we knew. Dinosaurs were much more diverse – and downright bizarre.
Some estimates suggest there were half a million species. Tiny bird-like dinosaurs might have been dancing in your palm while the bus-sized sauropods had small heads. They sported feathers, fur and bright colors.
And a lot of the dinosaurs you might know didn’t live around the same time. In fact, the 80 million years between Stegosaurus and Tyrannosaurus are longer than the time between T. rex and you.
A long time ago…
There’s still a lot we don’t know about dinosaurs, however, and sex is a big mystery.
Some tantalizing information about dinosaur courtship displays comes from what we know about living animals, especially birds. Some ground-nesting birds report being good companions by a dance that involves a type of scratching called lekking.
Dinosaurs engaged in similar display behavior, according to fossilized “scratches” left in 100-million-year-old rocks in the Dakota sandstone of western Colorado.
The technology is helping paleontologists answer other big questions such as whether the dinosaurs got sick. It turns out that they suffered from some of the same illnesses that we do.
The origin and evolution of flight is a long and complicated progression that began in the time of the dinosaurs.
Flying reptiles called pterosaurs, which grew to the size of small airplanes, dominated the sky 215 million years ago.
What would it have been like to jump into a time machine and meet one of these massive creatures?
Quetzalcoatlus, who lived 72 million years ago in the late Cretaceous, was a “giant flying murder head,” according to Mike Habib, an associate researcher at the Dinosaur Institute at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History. This pterosaur was walking on its hands and feet, its wings folded.
Its skull was 50% longer than that of a T. rex, with a toothless beak. He would probably make fast and strange movements like that of a bird. And he could hit the ground in nine tenths of a second. “These things are spring-loaded bouncing demons,” Habib said.
The climate has changed
The climate shaped the lives of our ancestors, with warmer periods sometimes allowing the first humans to spread across the planet.
North and South America were the last continents to be populated. The melting of the North American ice caps near the end of the Ice Age, about 13,000 years ago, opened up migratory routes between what is now Siberia and Alaska.
Before that, making such a trip was assumed to be impossible because two massive ice caps covered the upper third of North America 19,000 to 26,000 years ago. Ice and cold would have made much of the continent uninhabitable and the land bridge of Beringia, now lost, impassable.
But fossilized footprints found in White Sands National Park in New Mexico complicated that picture.
Turn, turn, turn
On September 22, we entered our second and final equinox of 2021.
If you live in the northern hemisphere, you know it as the fall equinox. For people south of the equator, this equinox signals the arrival of spring.
Long before the era of clocks, satellites, and modern technology, our ancient ancestors knew a lot about the movement of the sun across the sky – enough to build massive monuments and temples that served as giant calendars to mark the seasons.
And today the change of seasons is still celebrated in places like China and Vietnam during the Mid-Autumn Festival, while in Britain, where I’m based now, the Harvest Festival has its roots in the autumn equinox since pagan times. (Check out my favorite festival song, “Cauliflowers Fluffy.”)
Here are some awesome stories from modern times.
– Rats are the inhabitants of the underground depths – sewers, metro stations and basements – but what happens when our cities are flooded? It turns out they thrive in a crisis.
– The inhabitants of the largest country in the world are getting smaller and researchers are not sure why.
– The US Space Force, the newest branch of the US military, has released a new prototype uniform for its members. (He has some serious Star Trek vibes.)
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