WBEZ | dinosaurs http://www.wbez.org/tags/dinosaurs Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Bigger not necessarily better for Big Bird’s ancestors http://www.wbez.org/blogs/bez/2012-12/bigger-not-necessarily-better-big-bird%E2%80%99s-ancestors-104149 <p><p>For most of us, Big Bird is about as big as it gets when it comes to our feathered friends.</p><p>But for Peter Makovicky of the Field Museum, Big Bird is small stuff.</p><p>Makovicky is the Curator of Dinosaurs and Chair of the Department of Geology at Chicago&#39;s <a href="http://fieldmuseum.org/" target="_blank">Field Museum of Natural History</a>. He&rsquo;s spent the last few years researching giant bird-like dinosaurs of the Cretaceous period, called theropods. You might know them from Jurassic Park or elementary school coloring books. T-Rex and the infamous velociraptor are both theropods. And in case you missed the memo, scientists now believe <a href="http://phys.org/news/2012-10-canadian-fossils-feathered-dinosaurs-north.html" target="_blank">theropods had feathers</a>. (<a href="http://www.jurassicparkiv.org/" target="_blank">Jurassic Park IV</a>, anyone?)</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/RS6773_Khan-scr.jpg" style="height: 234px; width: 200px; float: left;" title="Skeleton of the small oviraptor Khan from the Late Cretaceous of Mongolia. The short, deep skull bears a parrot like beak. (Field Museum)" />A couple years ago Makovicky and Lindsay Zanno of North Carolina State University did a study showing that <a href="http://phys.org/news/2010-12-meat-eating-dinosaurs-carnivorous.html" target="_blank">many theropods are actually vegetarians</a>. So much for the <a href="http://25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_lh4x81XKTF1qaekpeo1_500.jpg" target="_blank">cruel velociraptor stereotype</a>.</p><p>The pair&rsquo;s latest research focuses on the evolutionary patterns of those fearsome herbivores.</p><p>&ldquo;The research that [we] did was to use dinosaurs to investigate the bigger evolutionary question of how animals become herbivorous,&rdquo; said Makovicky. Scientists had hypothesized that as species&rsquo; evolved to become plant-eaters, their body mass would also grow.</p><p>Big vegetarians not ringing a bell? Step away from <a href="http://www.peta2.com/blog/americas-next-top-vegetarian-model/" target="_blank">America&rsquo;s next top vegetarian model</a> and instead imagine an elephant, or a brachiosaurus, or a snuffaluffagus (not totally real, but <a href="http://muppet.wikia.com/wiki/File:BirdandSnuffy.jpg#file" target="_blank">still a relevant example</a>). The broad theory about evolutionary mass and herbivory says that the bigger some herbivores get, the easier it is to take in all those leafy greens.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s a lot harder to digest plants than meat,&rdquo; Makovicky explained. &ldquo;You have to intake the plants, and they have to sit in your gut for a long time and ferment for you to get as many calories out of them as from meat. For them to sit in a gut for a longer time, you essentially get a longer and larger gastrointestinal tract.&rdquo;</p><p><a href="http://images.nationalgeographic.com/wpf/media-live/photos/000/005/cache/giraffe_549_600x450.jpg" target="_blank">Precisely</a>.</p><p>But Makovicky&rsquo;s and Zanno&rsquo;s study, published Wednesday in the <a href="http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/280/1751/20122526.abstract" target="_blank"><em>Proceedings of the Royal Society B</em></a>, shows the vegetarians in the bunch did not consistently evolve to get bigger. Or, as the article title states, there is &ldquo;No evidence for directional evolution of body mass in herbivorous theropod dinosaurs.&rdquo;&nbsp;<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/RS6775_PeteInField-scr.jpg" style="height: 313px; width: 280px; float: right;" title="Peter Makovicky digging for dinosaur fossils. (Field Museum)" /></p><p>To find out that such evidence didn&rsquo;t exist, Makovicky and Zanno broke down the evolutionary trees of three different theropods who shifted to plant-based diets during the same time span, about 125 million to 65 million years ago. Evolutionary trees, or phlogenetic trees, are graphs that show the relationships scientists infer between evolving species over a period of time.</p><p>When Makovicky and Zanno analyzed the trees of their chosen theropods, they found that some of the bird-like giants got bigger, others smaller over different periods.</p><p><strong>Chickens of the Cretaceous</strong></p><p>The theropods Makovicky and Zanno studied were no slouches in the looks department. Makovicky called them &ldquo;oddballs.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;They don&rsquo;t look anything like your traditional view of a dinosaur,&rdquo; he said. The egg-thieves (oviraptorosaurs) are often depicted sitting on nests. They had a beak with a sliding jaw joint and a parrot-like head, sometimes with a bulge on top.</p><p>The scythe-lizards (therizinosaurs) were toothless, with a small head atop a long neck and squat body. Unlike the massive flamingos you might be picturing, though, they had thick limbs. And the ostrich-mimics (ornithomimosaurs) have a name that speaks for itself. Think of them as the giant chickens of the Cretaceous age.</p><p>All of these lizardly curios had feathers and are thought to be close relatives of current-day birds, and they lived in China, Mongolia, and what is now western North America.</p><p>Makovicky and Zanno conducted three tests based on the three theropod species, which they selected because all became herbivores during the Cretaceous period.</p><p>The first test showed that overall, the dinos in question got bigger over time. That was was scientists expected, a tendency that would be called &ldquo;directional evolution of body mass.&rdquo;</p><p>But when Zanno and Makovicky did a second test in which they broke down the evolutionary trees of each species and studied the branches of the trees, some of the branches got bigger while others got smaller at different times. That made it seem far less likely that any overall growth was consistently linked to the transition to herbivory.</p><p><br /><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/2310676873_e8168d5610%20%281%29.jpg" style="height: 373px; width: 280px; float: left;" title="A rendering of a therizinosaur from the early Cretaceous (Flickr/Cryptonaut)" />In their third test, they focused on two theropod lineages that occurred over the same period and in a similar location. That allowed the researchers to observe that the changes in size over time track each other, meaning that when one of the species got smaller, so did the other. The logical conclusion from this observation was that some environmental factor experienced by both species was more important than diet in determining the evolutionary direction of their sizes.</p><p><strong>Bigger is not always better. But why?</strong></p><p>What would make a recent convert to vegetarianism benefit from shrinking?</p><p>Makovicky and Zanno&rsquo;s research can&rsquo;t say for sure. Competition with other dinosaurs could be a factor. For herbivores living around a slew of other herbivore species, there could be advantages to focusing on a specialized dietary niche that larger feathered friends couldn&rsquo;t access. Makovicky also said smaller animals tend to reach maturity and reproduce at earlier ages. When the creatures ended up in environments with less abundant resources, evolving to smaller sizes could have been a way to stabilize the population.</p><p>The simultaneous changes in multiple species from one environment could also result from the nature of the geologic record.</p><p>&ldquo;You might have [geologic] environments that preferentially preserve small things,&rdquo; said Makovicky. The ups and downs in size could reflect shifts in what was mostly likely to be preserved, rather than in the actual sizes of the creatures.</p><p>The layman&rsquo;s take-away from Makovicky and Zanno&rsquo;s research is probably still the Big Bird bottom line: these theropods were huge, and they tended to get ginormous.</p><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s definitely capacity to grow very large as a herbivore, almost as large as a T-Rex,&rdquo; said Makovicky. &rdquo;In some of these environments these animals would have been bigger than any of the carnivores around. But the fact that they are herbivorous alone doesn&rsquo;t explain their body size evolution.&rdquo;</p><p>Some of the biggest specimens were found right at the end of the Cretaceous, which was the era of big dinosaurs in general: &ldquo;Everything got bigger,&rdquo; Makovicky said.</p><p>The environment for everyone - right up until that pesky extinction problem made the news - seems to have turned body mass into an asset. The reason for that grand trend is one of the <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jun/09/dinosaurs-not-that-big-scientists" target="_blank">big questions dino experts are still struggling to answer</a>.<br />&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Fri, 30 Nov 2012 18:34:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/bez/2012-12/bigger-not-necessarily-better-big-bird%E2%80%99s-ancestors-104149 The best dinosaur: Clever Apes’ Microscopic Comedy Showcase http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2011-03-31/best-dinosaur-clever-apes%E2%80%99-microscopic-comedy-showcase-84555 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2011-March/2011-03-31/GS and DT small 2.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>We close out dino-week with a further appreciation of dinosaur philosopher and man of letters, Dan Telfer. We were so charmed by his passionate dino-comedy that we talked him into performing it here at the WBEZ studio. This took some courage on his part, as interactive stand-up comedy is probably best accomplished in a boozy club, rather than before an earnest, tote-bagging public radio crowd at 2:00 pm. But Dan, to his great credit, was game. <strong>(Warning- the video contains stronger language than we can play on the radio!)</strong></p><p><iframe frameborder="0" height="281" src="http://player.vimeo.com/video/21705849?title=0&amp;byline=0&amp;portrait=0&amp;color=b30000" width="500"></iframe></p><p>After the gig, we sat Dan down to talk about the origins of his dinosaur routine. Hear our interview here:</p><p><audio class="mejs mediaelement-formatter-identified-1332483428-1" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/sites/default/files/Telfer interview.mp3">&nbsp;</audio></p><p>Learn more about <a href="http://dantelfer.blogspot.com/">Dan</a>, his <a href="http://www.facebook.com/notes/dan-telfer/tour/10150124229942620?ref=mf">upcoming gigs</a> and his CD, <a href="http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/fossil-record/id374980119">Fossil Record</a>.</p><p>Huge thanks to Andrew Gill for shooting and editing the video, Michael De Bonis for production and Mary Gaffeny for engineering. Dino palz 4 LIFE.</p><p><img alt="Gabriel Spitzer and Dan Telfer - Dino palz 4 LIFE. " class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-March/2011-03-31/GS and DT small 2.jpg" style="width: 500px; height: 375px;" title="Gabriel Spitzer and Dan Telfer - Dino palz 4 LIFE. "></p><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Thu, 31 Mar 2011 20:08:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2011-03-31/best-dinosaur-clever-apes%E2%80%99-microscopic-comedy-showcase-84555 Clever Apes: Top 5 dinosaur myths http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2011-03-31/clever-apes-top-5-dinosaur-myths-84500 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2011-March/2011-03-30/Sinclair dino world.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>The latest Clever Apes is all about demystifying dinosaurs, and why it seems to be taking popular culture so long to catch up with the science. So, with apologies for spoiling your childhood idylls, here are Clever Apes’ Top 5 Dinosaur Myths:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" height="322" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-March/2011-03-30/Sinclair dino world.jpg" title="" width="500"></p><p><strong>1) Brontosaurus</strong></p><p>We hope you know about this one by now, but <a href="http://dinosaurs.about.com/od/herbivorousdinosaurs/p/apatosaurus.htm">brontosaurus is no longer with us</a>. I don’t mean as in extinct – I mean as in never around to begin with. Brontosaurus was kind of a Frankenstein, born of the vagaries of field work. Back in the late 19th Century, Othinel Charles Marsh was in an all-out war with other fossil hunters over who could find the most new dinosaurs. In his haste he “discovered” and named two dinosaurs: first apatosaurus, then brontosaurus. Turns out they were the same dinosaur, just different ages. Furthermore, brontosaurus was missing a head (as long-dead dinosaurs often are), so Marsh kindly gave him one. Only problem was it was the head of a totally different dinosaur, camarasaurus.</p><p>Anyway, the myth is widespread enough that the U. S. Postal Service still put brontosaurus in <a href="http://www.search4dinosaurs.com/postage_stamps/UnitedStates_Dinosaurs_Prehistoric_Animals_Postage_Stamps.html">a set of “dinosaur” stamps</a> in 1989. They also added the pterodon, which, of course, is no dinosaur at all.</p><p><strong>2) Triceratops (sort of)</strong></p><p>Another field mix-up – at least, maybe. Last year paleo-celebrity <a href="http://www.museumoftherockies.org/Home/EXPLORE/Dinosaurs/PeopleinPaleo/JackHorner/tabid/389/Default.aspx">Jack Horner</a> of the Museum of the Rockies co-wrote a paper suggesting that <a href="http://ayl.lv/Z4g">triceratops was likely actually a younger version of another dinosaur, the torosaurus</a>. Many dinosaurs, it turns out, went through <a href="http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/dinosaur/2010/07/new-study-says-torosaurustriceratops/">major skeletal changes over the course of their lives</a>, confusing paleontologists and toddlers the world over. I suppose next they’ll be telling us that piatnitzkysaurus was just a juvenile gorgonops, right? Am I right? OK, just went overboard off the dork boat. Pull it together, Spitzer.</p><p>Anyway, when comic <a href="http://dantelfer.blogspot.com">Dan Telfer</a> made reference to the dubious triceratops on the<a href="http://www.wbez.org/dinos"> last Clever Apes</a>, we swiftly received anguished tweets from <a href="http://twitter.com/#%21/etsysockmonkey">@etsysockmonkey</a>, declaring that we’d made her cry and ruined her life. Well, I hate to break it to you, but it turns out the sock monkey is just a juvenile version of the stuffed monchhichi.</p><p><a href="http://fieldmuseum.org/users/lindsay-zanno">Lindsay Zanno</a> of the Field Museum adds another note of comfort: Even though Horner suggests triceratoips and torosaurus are the same species, triceratops was named first, so it wins. Also, she says, it may all turn out to be hooey.&nbsp;</p><p><strong>3) T. Rex stood tall</strong></p><p>The <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/eyetwist/321326827/">iconic image</a> of the T. Rex is of the mighty predator looming large, back upright, puny arm-twigs raised in menacing fashion. I suppose that seemed more imposing than the hunched-over thing we now know it to be. As paleontologist Paul Sereno explains, the T. Rex was much more bird than kangaroo (or dragon, for that matter). Most serious museums get this right now, but I can tell you from personal experience: the chintzy plastic-toy manufacturers have yet to catch up.</p><p><strong>4) Stegosaurus had two brains</strong></p><p>The idea that dinosaurs had brains the size of a walnut is itself something of a myth, but it appears to be true in the case of the stegosaurus. To compensate, scientists used to suggest the steg had a second brain near its tail – an “ass-brain,” as Dan Telfer put it. The notion came from a suspicious cavity in its spinal column, and the fact that paleontologists couldn’t imagine how the 30-foot long beast could function with a strawberry in its noggin.</p><p>But in the last few decades, the <a href="http://www.jstor.org/pss/2400969">second-brain theory has fallen out of favor</a>. Instead, that cavity may have housed a little starch factory, similar to what modern-day birds have.</p><p><strong>5) T-Rex and Stegosaurus tussled with each other</strong></p><p>Hate to say it, but these two did not cross paths. All the cartoons and coloring books seem to want to throw all the dinosaurs together at the same time. But the <a href="http://lastdaysoftheincas.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/dinosaur-timeline.jpg">Mesozoic&nbsp;dinosaur era lasted about 165 million years</a>, and during that time lots of dinosaurs came and went. The tyrannosaurus and the stegosaurus missed each other by about 80 million years.&nbsp;</p><p><strong>6) (Special BONUS myth) Dinosaurs are extinct&nbsp;</strong></p><p>Wrong! Sucker! The Field Museum's Zanno says, technically, <a href="http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/diapsids/avians.html">birds are living dinosaurs</a>. So we are still in the dinosaur era. Dinophiles, rejoice!</p><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Thu, 31 Mar 2011 10:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2011-03-31/clever-apes-top-5-dinosaur-myths-84500 Clever Apes #9: Demystifying dinosaurs http://www.wbez.org/dinos <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2011-March/2011-03-29/P1000075.JPG" alt="" /><p><p><img alt="Paleontologist Paul Sereno in his fossil lab at the University of Chicago. " class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-March/2011-03-29/Sereno.jpg" style="width: 400px; height: 300px; " title="Paleontologist Paul Sereno in his fossil lab at the University of Chicago. "></p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>Brontosaurus? A sham. Triceratops? Awkward adolescent. Tyrannosaurus Rex? A total wuss. OK, maybe T-Rex was no wuss, but it definitely lacked dignity. It walked all bent over, may have been an<a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/3112527.stm"> opportunistic scavenger</a> and possibly even <a href="http://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/dinosaurs/diorama/tyrant.php">had feathers</a>. Feathers.</p><p>There’s no question: The dinosaurs of our youth have been irrevocably humbled. And yet movies, kids’ books and advertisements still perpetuate all kinds of misconceptions about dinosaurs that scientists long ago left behind. So why is it that dinosaur myths die so hard?</p><p>We consider that question in the latest installment of Clever Apes. Eminent Paleontologist <a href="http://www.paulsereno.org/paulsereno/">Paul Sereno</a> joins us talk about which dinosaur myths bug him, and why they might not all be bad. We’ll also sort out, thanks to Chicago comic Dan Telfer, which is the best dinosaur. Oh yes, there’s an answer.</p><p><strong><sub>Listen to the latest installment:</sub></strong><br> <audio class="mejs mediaelement-formatter-identified-1332483426-1" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/sites/default/files/Clever_Apes_Demystifying_Dinosaurs.mp3">&nbsp;</audio></p><p>Dan, as you’ll discover, is a dinosaur maven. Check out <a href="http://dantelfer.blogspot.com/">his web site</a> and his CD, <a href="http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/fossil-record/id374980119">Fossil Record</a>. Also, watch this space later this week for the special extended-cut, rated-PG-13 video of Dan’s performance, and a behind-the-scenes interview.</p><p>As always, subscribe to the Clever Apes&nbsp;<a href="http://feeds.feedburner.com/CleverApesPodcast" style="text-decoration: none; color: rgb(0, 104, 150);" target="_blank" title="http://feeds.feedburner.com/CleverApesPodcast">podcast</a>, follow us on&nbsp;<a href="http://twitter.com/#%21/cleverapes" style="text-decoration: none; color: rgb(0, 104, 150);" target="_blank" title="http://twitter.com/#!/cleverapes">Twitter</a>, or find us on&nbsp;<a href="http://www.facebook.com/pages/Clever-Apes-on-WBEZ/118246851551412" style="text-decoration: none; color: rgb(0, 104, 150);" target="_blank" title="http://www.facebook.com/pages/Clever-Apes-on-WBEZ/118246851551412">Facebook</a>.<br> &nbsp;</p></p> Tue, 29 Mar 2011 21:57:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/dinos