Tuesday, August 2, 2011
The Tyranny of Designation
Back when I was enjoying the first of my nine lives, my people pals showed me a big book with lots of drawings of dinosaurs. Dinosaur, the book told us, meant "terrible lizard," and all dinosaurs were reptiles, like snakes, turtles, alligators, and crocodiles, only much, much larger and fearsome. Since they were reptiles, they must have been cold-blooded like their modern relatives. This meant that plant eaters like brontosaurus (which subsequent books on the subject called apatosaurus) spent most of their time standing around chest-deep in swamps, since they were so large that their slow, cold-blooded metabolisms doomed them to a life of slow-motion and weight displacement in water. Meat-eaters like allosaurus were cold-blooded, too, and so it was a mystery how, large as they were, they could move fast enough to catch food. But, wait! All dinosaurs were lethargic, so nobody moved particularly quickly. That cold-bloodedness was an evolutionary bummer for sure.
Strangely, dinosaur fossils seemed to have many avian characteristics. Fossilized bone structures indicated musculature quite different from reptiles. It was reminiscent of mammalian bodies. But the ancient 19th century authorities had called them "terrible lizards," so reptilian the dinosaurs were, and cold-blooded in the bargain, regardless of any contrary evidence. Even to a feline like moi, that sounds rather closed-minded and slobberdogmatic. Could every scientist swallow this party line indefinitely?
Not Robert T. Bakker and like-thinking paleontologists. Bakker led the charge in assailing the cold-blooded mentality by arguing that dinosaurs were warm-blooded. He has a book full of evidence to substantiate his claims, too. Want to learn more? That's where book trailers come in.
Your and my ancestors (we mammals have to stick together) dodged underfoot of these giant, warm-blooded behemoths, which was no picnic, I can assure you. They ruled the earth for hundreds of millions of years, then -- KAPOWEE!! -- they're toast. Thanks, asteroid (well, technically, meteorite), for striking the Gulf of Mexico about 65 million years ago. Oh, but that couldn't have happened! Late 18th century and early 19th century scientists declared that there were no such things as meteorites. Rocks were not found in the sky, so they could not fall therefrom. Simple, infallible logic, assuming you begin with a properly skewed premise. Same kind of thinking that declared from the beginning that dinosaurs were lizards, therefore reptiles, therefore cold-blooded. See how easy thinking is when you don't worry about those pesky facts getting in the way?
Pretty Clear-Headed About Most Things, Myself,
Cauli Le Chat
MPL Roving Reporter
Dinosaur News Beat
P.S. One of the best science adventure novels about dinosaurs is The Lost World, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It so inspired Michael Crichton that he named his sequel to Jurassic Park by the same title, as a tribute to Conan Doyle. Our book trailer (above) should whet your appetite for more excitement than you've had hot dinners. Better watch out, of those dinos will have you for their hot dinners. We're not talking Flintstones here, either. [Hey, Scowl-Face has a theory that The Flintstones series (1959-1966) was a cartoon knock-off of the classic television program The Honeymooners (1953-1956). Could be. Watch a few episodes and see what you think. There must be some on YouTube; everything else is uploaded there.]