Friday, September 21, 2007

The dinosaur you ate yesterday

You probably ate an avian yesterday -- a turkey or chicken perhaps. You ate a dinosaur ...
Velociraptor was just a scary turkey, say scientists | Science | The Guardian

... Velociraptor, which was much smaller in real life than its screen version, was a one-metre tall, two-legged predator that lived more than 70m years ago. Equipped with large claws on each leg, it was a close relative to the earliest birds.

In a study of the fossilised forearms of velociraptors found in Mongolia in 1998, palaeontologist Mark Norell of the American Museum of Natural History found 'quill knobs' - bumps where the feathers used for flight in modern birds are anchored to the bone with ligaments. His results are published today in the journal Science.

'The more that we learn about these animals the more we find that there is basically no difference between birds and their closely related dinosaur ancestors like velociraptor,' said Professor Norell. 'Both have wishbones, brooded their nests, possess hollow bones, and were covered in feathers. If animals like velociraptor were alive today our first impression would be that they were just very unusual looking birds.'

Because of velociraptor's relatively short forelimbs, the feathers would not have helped it to fly. The researchers speculated that the feathers could have been passed down from smaller ancestors that did fly but would have served other functions such as display, shielding nests, temperature control or to help stability.
Geezers like me still tend to think the dinosaurs became extinct, but my son Ben's books talk only about the 'extinction of the non-avian dinosaurs'. The dinosaurs that attract our imagination were probably all avian dinosaurs, so, truly, they never did become extinct. Now that's a successful design ...

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