"How fast does a T-Rex run?"  And other questions about dinosaurs examined in a new book

“How fast does a T-Rex run?” And other questions about dinosaurs examined in a new book

Princeton University Press

How fast does a T. rex run?

Princeton University Press

What color are dinosaurs? When watching Jurassic Park films, the answer seems obvious: gray, brown, or pale green at best.

In a new book, British paleontologist David Hoon Jaffa asks: “Was there a group of animals with more dull colors than seen in those films?”

in How fast does a T. rex run?Hone sets the record straight. Some dinosaurs appeared in iridescent red, white, or black colors, and showed patterns of colored spots, spots, or stripes. A small dinosaur called Sinosauropteryx from China, for example, is described as a “ginger” with white stripes. “

How do scientists reconstruct the colors of animals that became extinct (excluding birds and more on them in an instant) for 65 million years? The key, Hon explains, is “packages of pigments” called melanosomes that are found in cells. Many living animals, including humans, have melanosomes and are also found in rock formations that contain preserved dinosaur skins or feathers. It is very fortunate that the shape of the melanosome exactly reflects its color type: “So while fossil melanosomes have no color now, we know what they should have been and from that we can determine the colors.”

Hon set out to write a book that emphasizes as much as is not known about dinosaurs. (Regarding the title, how fast the T. rex will run is one of the unknowns.) He strikes that balance beautifully. The volume is filled with engaging descriptions of advances in dinosaur science, while also serving as a handbook for anyone wishing to identify central gaps in our knowledge. Regarding color information, for example, he laments the “frustratingly incomplete” nature of the data: whether colors are muted or bright is unclear – and only about six dinosaurs have been studied so far. We have no idea the range of color variation across species, genders, or individuals over time.

Although I am thrilled to have observed or learned about almost any animal, dinosaur fever, in childhood or adulthood, it somehow eluded me – until now. I’ve been captivated by Hone’s engaging way of laying out everything from the basics to the more advanced aspects of dinosaur science.

During their reign on Earth, dinosaurs – about 1,500 species of them – lived in almost every ecosystem on the planet. Although the stereotype of tropical swamp organisms is strongly ingrained in popular culture, dinosaurs in fact lived “on mountains, deserts, lakes, seashores, temperate and coniferous forests, and across all kinds of temperature, rain, snow, wind, and other variations in both climate and and weather.”

Dinosaurs are divided into three types or cladins. Theropods are bipedal, mostly carnivorous dinosaurs including Tyrannosaurus and Velociraptor. Sauropodomorphs such as Brontosaurus and Brachiosaurus walked on all fours, and had huge bodies and long necks. Ornithischians are plant eaters, often displaying plates and bone values, Stegosaurus and Triceratops among them.

How long is the reign of dinosaurs? Here, I present a complaint. Refinement at various points says that dinosaurs have been around for “130-something” million years, or 150 million years, or “180 million years”. The unexplained paradox of 50 million years is no small feat even in a book about what is completely unknown in dinosaur science, baffling readers.

But when he delves into the details, the Hone is great. In addition to the appearance of dinosaurs, it covers extinction, origins, conservation, diversity, evolutionary patterns, habitats, anatomy, mechanics, physiology, lids, reproduction, behavior, ecology, dinosaur descendants, and changing aspects of research and communication. It’s hard to pick out favorites here, but the breeding class was among the most mind-blowing.

The Hone in this chapter includes a photo, taken by himself in China, of an ugly egg nest and herded by a giant Oviraptorosaur. The caption confirms what we can see in the photo: “The eggs are laid in multiple layers in a ring and the animal is likely sitting in the middle.” There is a paradox to be found in the fact that this dinosaur displayed parental care to the eggs: “Oviraptorosaur” means “egg thief.” When researchers first discovered skeletons of this dinosaur with eggs, the assumption was that it ate other dinosaur eggs, not brood. The so-called titanosaurs apparently did not incubate, but instead, based on the location of their eggshells and eggshell composition, heated the eggs by volcanic heat. Hen notes that this behavior is “completely unexpected.”

We still don’t understand much about the reproductive biology of dinosaurs. Does the female or male sit on the eggs or exchange? Going back a bit to their mating moments, Hone again shows some dry humor: “How on earth are you supposed to lump together two very thorny ankylosaurs, or some giant multi-ton theropods, or the largest sauropod theropods?”

Ten thousand species of dinosaurs are alive today: birds, of course. The Hone has a lot to say about the origin of the bird breed, once again balancing strong evidence with open questions. Birds and dinosaurs coexisted for 100 million years, so we know that birds didn’t arise until after the famous extinction event 65 million years ago. Flying reptiles called pterosaurs and non-avian dinosaurs disappeared at that point, and “very large numbers” of avian lineages also disappeared. The bird survivors were a species largely confined to the ground but still able to fly, apparently indicating the fact that arboreal birds suffered a more serious habitat loss.

What about this extinction event? Yes, the asteroid that hit the Mexican Yucatan Peninsula is still the main contender to explain the loss of the dinosaurs. But Hone complicates that story intriguingly. And it raises the possibility that if the asteroid had “swimmed through the Earth without scratching too much,” the dinosaurs would likely have gone extinct anyway because they were already struggling to survive in a world severely altered by previous volcanic eruptions.

Hidden in the back of the book, after the reference section, Hone asked readers to fill out a brief online survey seeking to discover who might have been inspired to learn more about dinosaurs. Hone notes that “tracking the impact of my work on the general public helps me continue to do so.” I expect he will hear a lot of good news very soon.

Barbara J. King is a backward biological anthropologist at William & Mary. Animal Best Friends: Putting Empathy to Work with Animals in Captivity It is her seventh book. Find her on Twitter Tweet embed

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