Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Can Dinosaurs Be New?

One of my Junior High science projects was a ‘diorama’ and report on dinosaurs. I carefully carved my 3 chosen specimen from Ivory soap bars and painted the inside of a cardboard box to be their home.
That was so long ago, the dinosaurs I carved out and reported on were the stegosaurus, tyrannosaurus rex, and the... brontosaurus. Nobody talks about brontos anymore. It’s kind of like they never existed. Actually, they never did. Somehow, somebody stuck the wrong head on another dino’s body, and nobody caught it until-- Well, I don’t know when they figured it out, sometime between my science project and the time my kids went into their ‘dinosaur’ stage.
Since then, there have been tons of dinosaurs and other creatures discovered. Instead of a world inhabited by a handful of giant, scaly lizards, we can now picture a world inhabited by any number of lizards, fish, insects, some mammals, and birds. Even some reptiles that disguised themselves as birds.
Take, for instance, the one I read about this week; the Changyuraptor yangi. It was covered in feathers, including foot-long tail feathers. It was a reptile, and it couldn’t fly. It might have been able to glide, or as one scientist put it, “... if you pushed them out of a tree, they'd fall pretty slowly.”
This despite being described as having 4 wings. Really? No, not exactly. The feathered forelimbs were somewhat akin to a bird’s wings. The backlimbs were also feathered, in such a way that they looked like wings. Lots of feathers, but not a bird.
The Changyuraptor was discovered in China, which seems to be THE place for any self-respecting feathered reptile to have lived. Stegosaurs lived in Western America some 25-30 million years earlier. Since they had armour instead of feathers, I guess they couldn’t aspire to live in China. T.Rex  and their relatives seemed to live where-ever they wanted.

I’m glad I didn’t have to try to carve 4 ‘wings’ and feathers on a creature for my science project. Still, my hackles rise a little when I see a headline about a ‘NEW’ dinosaur being discovered. Whatever their form, dinosaurs aren’t ‘new’. Their dead body has been sitting in the ground for millions of years. It’s not their fault if we’ve only just found them.

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