Friday, October 10, 2014

Dinosaurs among us

It turns out that the Raptors in Jurassic Park probably should
have looked more like this.
We all know the story. Sixty-five million years ago a devastating impact from space killed off all the dinosaurs. The problem is that this isn't actually true. Yes, the vast majority of dinosaurs did die at the end of the Cretaceous period. But not all of them... Some survived and continue on to this day. When told this, some people may start thinking about lizards and alligators. But these reptiles are not actually descended from the dinosaurs.

In fact the dinosaurs among us are quite common. We see them every day. You may feed them, or even provide them with housing. People keep them as pets, and we've all had to deal with the mess when they poop all over your car. I'm talking about birds of course!

This may be surprising to some, but it's true. Today Polly may only want a cracker. But step back in time and Polly was a Velociraptor. We have been able to make this connection due to the fossil record. More recent discoveries have shown that the pictures or the very reptilian looking Tyrannosaurus Rex and Velociraptor were actually incorrect. It turns out that these guys were actually adorned with feathers. They weren't for flight as first. Instead they worked as insulation, as well as for display.

The famous Archaeopteryx. One important stepping stone
between feathered dinosaurs and modern birds.
But the fossil record showed that dino-feathers would grow to be more and more bird-like over time. Specimens like Archeopteryx attest to the evolutionary path of birds from small feathered dinosaurs. What of the rest of the dinosaurs? Why did only the ones that became birds survive? Well, sometimes being small has it's advantages. You require less food, can be more versatile, shorter individual life spans, and the ability to have more young more often. It's a perfect recipe for evolution to craft the future generations to come.

Study of the skeletal structure has shown striking similarities between certain dinosaurs and birds. Bird-like ankles, braced hips, hollow lightweight bones, backward pubic bone, and even the presence of a wishbone show that many common bird features were carried over from a much different past. Collagen proteins found in a T-Rex bone most closely matched those of birds when it was tested. Not to mention that they also layed eggs as well.

Nope this guy totally doesn't look prehistoric at all...
And here's another very interesting bit. T-Rex is actually more closely related to modern birds than it
is to other types of dinosaurs such as Triceratops! That's because it's not dinosaurs as a whole that led to birds, but the sub group of Theropods. This is an important distinction to realize because some creationists will point to fossilized skin pressings that show a scaly exterior devoid of feathers. Not all dinosaurs are created equal though. Some classes of dinosaurs had feathers and some didn't. Not even all Theropods had feathers, but the important thing to remember is that the ones that did are the ones that survived.

So make no mistake, birds are a remaining member of the group called Dinosauria. It is rather fitting that to this day, birds of prey are still referred to as raptors. When someone claims that the dinosaurs are all dead and gone, it may be that you actually had one for lunch when you ordered that chicken sandwich. And with a known 10,000 different species of bird, dinosaurs may actually be doing better than ever! Behold the continuing age of the dinosaur...


-Brain Hulk

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