Monday, December 31, 2012

The Ancestral Australian Aborigines As a Possible Cause for the Extinction of Australia's Pleistocene Marsupial Megafauna

A few weeks ago, in my Anthropology class, we had to do a cultural profile of one culture group of humans.  I chose the Australian Aborigines and, having just finished Tim Flannery's excellent book "Chasing Kangaroos," this whole concept of the Ancestral Aborigines being the possible cause of the extinction of Australia's Pleistocene megafauna was still quite fresh in my mind, so I included it in the paper.  I thought it was pretty interesting, and so I have decided to share it with ya'll, too, with a few brief modifications to make it more Blog friendly!  Hope you enjoy, and if you want a more comprehensive look at the topic, I highly recommend "Chasing Kangaroos!"

Interestingly, paleontologists today are using the Australian Aborigines to help them figure out when Australia's Pleistocene megafauna went extinct.  While today, there are no native animals larger than the red kangaroo, Pleistocene Australia was a very different place, as was the rest of the world.  The Pleistocene Epoch was the time of the Ice Age megafauna.  With the exception of Africa and south-east Asia, in most places nowadays, the Pleistocene megafauna is extinct, but back then, the megafauna were a world-wide phenomenon.  In Eurasia, there were the giant mammoths and rhinoceroses, the cave lions and hyenas, the Irish elk, and the giant polar bear.  In North America, there were the mammoths and mastodons, the short-faced bear, the giant bison, the dire wolf, the giant beavers, and the saber-toothed cats.  In South America, there were the giant ground sloths, the armored glyptodonts, and many large relatives of elephants.  

Australia also had its fair share of Pleistocene megafauna, with marsupial lions, the giant short-faced kangaroos, the hippo-sized wombat Diprotodon, and echidnas that were the size of sheep.  There are two main hypothesis when it comes to what caused the extinction of all these animals: climate change, or hunting by early human arrivals on Australia, the first Aborigines.  No one could figure out whether it really was the Aborigines that had hunted the megafauna to extinction, though, because no one could figure out the date that the megafauna had gone extinct, nor could they figure out the date that humans first arrived on Australia.  Some people believed that the megafauna survived until around 6,000 years ago, while others believed that they went extinct a great many years prior.  The same difficulties confronted those scientists attempting to determine when humans first arrived.  The sediments of Australia are notoriously hard to date, and since the animals of Australia are so unique (especially following the extinction of the dinosaurs), scientists were unable to correlate their data with other places around the world.[1] 

As more scientific discoveries were made, a new method of dating rocks was discovered, called optically stimulated luminescence (or OSL for short).  Using OSL, paleontologists were successfully able to date many different specimens of the various marsupial Pleistocene megafauna, and found that, while many of them approached the 46,000 years ago mark, none of them passed it.  Many different specimens were used from all across Australia, but they all said the same thing: 46 was the answer. 

Meanwhile, with the new OSL tool in their bag, other scientists headed off to sites of known human habitation to attempt to date them as well, and these efforts proved to be successful.  One of the main places that they dated was a place known as Devil’s Lair, a known area of ancient Aboriginal inhabitance.  What was especially important about Devil’s Lair was that there was sediment present for the last 63,000 years, meaning that instead of just a snapshot of time, the scientists had an uninterrupted sequence of time to figure out when humans started living there.  As the scientists dated the sediments with the first signs of human inhabitance, they came up with the magic number: 46,000.  Other sites came up with the same number too, including Lake Mungo, the oldest human burial known from Australia.  At Lake Mungo, the dates were a bit less precise, ranging from between 45,000 and 47,000 years ago, but the data still seems to point in the same direction.  The ancestral Aborigines arrived on the continent at around the same time that Australia’s Pleistocene megafauna went extinct.  With this new dating technique, scientists were also able to determine that there was no significant climate change for many thousands of years on either side of the 46,000 mark, effectively ruling out that hypothesis.  So it seems that, for a time, the people who believe themselves as part of the land and the natural world around them actually destroyed a significant part of it.
[1] For example, paleontologists studying dinosaurs of the Late Jurassic Morrison Formation here in Colorado are able to look at closely related dinosaurs in other parts of the world like the UK and southern Africa (keep in mind that the continents were all together in one big landmass back then.)  That way, if the paleontologists are unable to determine the dates of, say, the Tendaguru Formation in Tanzania, they can look to the studies done on the rocks of the Morrison Formation for an accurate estimation.  This is a luxury that paleontologists, archaeologists and other scientists working in Australia simply do not have. 

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Harry Potter Names: Remus Lupin

Remus Lupin is one of my favorite protagonists from the Harry Potter series.  Despite the fact that he is a werewolf, he nevertheless is an exemplary wizard and a fantastic teacher.  The origins of his name are also quite interesting!

The surname, Remus, originates from the myth of Rome's foundation.  One of two main characters in the story, Remus's brother Romulus is the other central character.  There are many different forms of the myth, but here is how most of them seem to go.  The mother of Remus and Romulus has the two young boys float down in the river to protect them from the Gods, in the hopes that someone else will raise them.  They end up being raised by a female wolf.  Later on, they are adopted by humans, and eventually build a large city.  Both brothers want to be king, however, so the pair quarrel, and Remus is killed.

So we have the wolf connection: Remus and Romulus were cared for by a wolf, and Remus Lupin is a werewolf.  Another connection is that, in the seventh book, Remus Lupin is a guest on Potterwatch, and goes by the code name "Romulus."  Some sources even cite that J. K. Rowling's intentions were to represent the conflict within Remus Lupin (between his human side and his werewolf side) by having the names of the two brothers both apply to Remus Lupin.

Next, we have the last name, "Lupin."  In Latin, the word "lupus" means "wolf:"  This is where the scientific name for the gray wolf comes from, Canis lupus, shared by the many sub-species of the gray wolf, including the arctic wolf, the Mexican red wolf, and the domestic dog.  So that apparently means that "lupin" translates to "wolf-like."

We have one more connection, courtesy of Aniruddh Prakash: the letters in the name "Remus Lupin" can be rearranged to the words "Primus lune," which means full moon.  Coincidence?  I think not!  Clearly, Rowling put a great deal of thought into this name!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Some Like It Hot....Radioactive Hot

Today was quite an eventful day, for many reasons!  Went to the Zoo Lights at the Denver Zoo with some good friends of ours; learned that Ray Wise is not in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but is actually in X-Men: First Class; and learned that the building off the highway called "Quaker Steak and Lube" is actually a restaurant, and not a car repair place.  Also, on my way to the Morrison Museum this morning, I saw what I am pretty sure was a peregrine falcon, as well as a number of red-tailed hawks and kestrels, and the great-horned owl that I have seen a few times recently perched on the "speed limit" sign on the highway!  It was pretty awesome!  Oh, and did I mention that one of my fossils might be radioactive?
One of the Zoo Lights was this tiger, but I'm pretty sure he's supposed to go around something a little thicker....
I was talking to Dr. Bob today at the museum, and we were talking about fossil hunting in Texas, chiefly the fossils that I got down there when we went to visit my gramma last Christmas, as well as the fossil dig-site that he has down there.  As we were talking, I thought back to the fossilized wood (top picture, the thing with the penny on it and everything to the right and above that piece) that I had picked up in Santa Rosa, New Mexico, on one of the first nights of our trip.  I had never been able to figure out what formation or what geologic time period it came from, so I asked Dr. Bob.  He said that there are a lot of different aged rocks from throughout the Mesozoic Era (the time of the dinosaurs), from the Triassic to the Cretaceous.  Then, as a sidenote, he mentioned that some of the fossilized wood down there tends to be radioactive, sometimes dangerously so.  Well then!  I am currently sorting this out, but I feel like I don't really have enough to worry about.  Famous last words, right?

Friday, December 21, 2012

Animal Spotlight: Gasparinisaura

Gasparinisaura is just one of those many dinosaurs that are not very famous at all, and not very well known.  In fact, I hadn't even heard of it until this morning, when my episode of Dr. Who made the computer momentarily freeze, so I picked up my Jurassic Park Institue: Dinosaur Field Guide by Dr. Thomas R. Holtz and Dr. Michael Brett-Surman that was sitting next to me on the computer table and turned to page 74.  Learn something new every day!

Gasparinisaura is considered to be a part of the basal, or primitive, ornithopods.  Ornithopods are different from other ornithischian dinosaurs in that they have a premaxilla bone that reaches further than their maxilla bone, and that their jaw joint is further down than in other dinosaurs.  Most of the basal ornithopods were around during the Jurassic Period, such as the Late Jurassic Othnielia rex, who inhabited what would become the rocks of the Morrison Formation of Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming.  Most of the rest of the basal ornithopods didn't survive past the Early Cretaceous Period, but Gasparinisaura has been found in rocks dating from around 80-90 MYA, right smack-dab in the Middle Cretaceous Period of Argentina.  According to the Jurassic Park Institute, "Remains of dinosaurs from this time span are so extremely rare, all the specimens in the world would fit in one small exhibit hall!"

Let's take a brief look at what we know about the evolution and the dispersal of the basal ornithopods, shall we?  According to my massive, 861 page book called The Dinosauria, every member of the clade Ornithopoda (which includes the iguanodonts and the duck-billed hadrosaurs, as well as the basal ornithopods) had a common ancestor that came from Asia.  This is interesting to note, because two other major clades of dinosaurs, the Marginocephalians (which includes the ceratopsians like Triceratops and the Pachycephalosaurs like Pachycephalosaurus and Stygimoloch) and the Thyreophorans (which includes stegosaurs like Stegosaurus and ankylosaurs like Ankylosaurus [yes, I know, that sounded incredibly redundant]) are hypothesized to have originally evolved in Asia, before spreading out to other parts of the world.  Whew, that would have been a mouth-full if I had had to say that out loud.

Anyways, paleontologists believe that this common ancestor would have inhabited Asia during the Early Jurassic Period, or perhaps even before that.  According to the book, prior to the Late Jurassic, a "major dispersal to North America took place."  Following this dispersal to North America, two "subsequent dispersals from North America" followed, one to Europe, and the other to South America.  (Keep in mind that, at this time in Earth's history, the continents were intermittently connected, allowing for the over-land dispersal of animals that would be entirely unable to do the same thing today.)  The European dispersal contained ornithopods of the lineage that would one day lead to the relatively famous dinosaur known as Hypsilophodon.  This dispersal is thought to have occurred before or during the Early Cretaceous.  Meanwhile, the South American dispersal "took place (at the latest) during the early Late Cretaceous," and was composed of members of the lineage that would one day lead to our home-dawg, Gasparinisaura.  Boy, am I the only one who just skimmed those last two paragraphs?

Gasparinisaura, like many of the basal-most members of the ornithopods, was just a little guy, only around two feet long, and probably weighing about as much as a chicken.  Remains of Gasparinisaura are found in the Río Colorado Formation.  With further digging (oh so witty) in The Dinosauria, I have been able to come up with other dinosaurs found in this formation. Here is a list of all of the dinosaurs mentioned in the book. 

Alvarezsaurus, a member of the group of dinosaurs known as the alvarezsaurids, a group of Maniraptoran dinosaurs thought to be fairly closely related to the ornithomimosaurs.  

Patagopteryx, a flightless bird that probably weighed around as much as a turkey.  

Neuquenornis, a small, pigeon-sized bird.  Apparently, paleontologists have not only discovered a partial skeleton of this animal, but also some eggs with embryos!  Pretty neat!  

Velocisaurus, a four or so foot long ceratosaur, not very well known.  A noasaurid, and, as you can see in the pictures below (all four of the pictures are of Velocisaurus), looks a lot like its close relative, Masiakasaurus, whose picture you can see if you click on the word "Masiakasaurus" where it is yellow. 

Aucasaurus, a thirteen or fourteen foot long abelisaur, thought to be a close relative of Carnotaurus.  Known from a skeleton that is quite complete, but not yet fully described.  

Neuquenosaurus and Titanosaurus, a pair of sauropod dinosaurs. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

23-Fact Tuesday: All About Allosaurus!

Today we are going to do yet another 23-Fact Tuesday, and this time it is all about a particularly interesting dinosaur known as Allosaurus.  But this 23-Fact Tuesday is particularly special, as it is also the birthday post of one of my personal heroes and one of the people who inspired me to take this dinosaur- and animal-oriented path, Mr. "Dino" George Blasing!  Happy birthday, Mr. Blasing!  Here we go!
Allosaurus Vs. Stegosaurus at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science
1.  On Halloween in 1879, Arthur Lakes discovered a tooth from a dinosaur that was later identified as Allosaurus in Wyoming.

2.  In the United States, Allosaurus is found in the Morrison Formation, and lived alongside other animals such as Stegosaurus, Apatosaurus, Ceratosaurus, Camptosaurus, Gargoyleosaurus, and many others. 
A skeleton of Gargoyleosaurus from the Denver Museum of Nature and Science
Allosaurus Vs. Camptosaurus that I saw at a traveling exhibit at the San Antonio River Walk in Texas
Ceratosaurus at the Smithsonian
Stegosaurus at the Utah Field House
3. The claws on the hand of Allosaurus could reportedly grow up to 10 inches long.
The arm and the claws of Allosaurus, mounted at the Morrison Natural History Museum
4.  Some scientists believe that Allosaurus had a very weak bite, around the strength of a leopard.  Regardless of exactly how weak of a bite it had, Allosaurus was definitely not a heavy-biter champion, and many paleontologists hypothesize that it instead used its skull sort of like a hatchet to kill its prey, using its razor-sharp teeth to critically injure its prey.

5.  The first fossils of Allosaurus that were ever discovered were originally thought to be petrified horse hooves.

6.  Allosaurus is the state dinosaur of Utah.
A reconstructed skeleton of Allosaurus at the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry in Utah
7.  Allosaurus certainly didn't sit on its rump and enjoy hamburgers and tea, as their skeletons show that they suffered many injuries throughout their lives.  As a matter of fact, the Allosaurus specimen that is on display at the Smithsonian Institution has a number of broken ribs, a smashed shoulder blade, and a damaged lower jaw.
A crushed femur belonging to Allosaurus from the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry
8.  The lower jaw of the specimen at the Smithsonian was so damaged, in fact, that it took scientists more than 100 years to figure out that it was, in fact, an Allosaurus jaw!

9.  A predator-prey relationship between Allosaurus and Stegosaurus was all but confirmed with the discovery of a specimen of Allosaurus with a hole in one of its tail vertebrae that perfectly matched the shape and size of the thagomizer on the tail of Stegosaurus.
Allosaurus Vs. Stegosaurus at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science
The "thagomizer" of Stegosaurus, mounted at the DMNS.  Check out THIS post to learn about how this particular part of the Stegosaurus got its name!
10.  "Allosaurus" spelled backwards is "Suruasolla," which means absolutely nothing.

11.  The small horns above the eyes of Allosaurus are mostly thought to have been for display, as most scientists believe them to be too weak to withstand much stress resulting from conflict with prey or other Allosaurus.
12.  Allosaurus gives its name to the group Allosauroidea, which includes the Chinese theropods Yangchuanosaurus and Sinraptor, and the carcharodontosaurids, which includes one of the largest carnivorous dinosaurs of all time, Carcharodontosaurus, amongst other dinosaurs.

13.  Some of the other scientific names that Allosaurus fragilis has had over the years are Allosaurus lucaris, Allosaurus ferox, Labrosaurus ferox, Labrosaurus lucaris, Antrodemus, Poicilopleuron valens, Laelaps trihedrodon, Epanterias amplexus, Hypsirhophus discurus, Hypsirhophus partim, and Creosaurus atrox, with a few other names under debate right now.  Specifically, some scientists think that the dinosaur known as Saurophaganax is the same animal as Allosaurus.  However, I have talked with a few people, including Matthew Mossbrucker, curator of the Morrison Natural History Museum, and he says that he has seen the remains of Saurophaganax and believes them to be distinct from Allosaurus
A reconstructed skeleton of Saurophaganax that I saw at a traveling exhibit at the San Antonio River Walk in Texas
14.  Besides Saurophaganax, Allosaurus was much larger than the other known theropods from Late Jurassic Morrison, such as Ceratosaurus and Torvosaurus.
A reconstructed skull of Saurophaganax that I saw at a traveling exhibit at the San Antonio River Walk in Texas
15.  We humans actually live closer in time to the famous Tyrannosaurus rex, Triceratops, and other dinosaurs from that time period than they do to Allosaurus!
A Triceratops skull at the Morrison Natural History Museum
16.  Allosaurus fragilis was first named by famous paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh in 1877.

17.  The scientific name of Allosaurus fragilis translates to "fragile different lizard," named such due to the fact that Marsh believed that the vertebrae of Allosaurus would have been quite weak, and were different  from those of other, previously discovered dinosaurs.  Now we know that vertebrae of this kind were quite common.

18.  One of the most famous specimens of Allosaurus is the approximately 95% complete specimen nicknamed "Big Al."  Estimated to be only a teenager at his TOD, he is about 26 feet long, which probably helps to explain why so many of my dinosaur books list the estimated length of Allosaurus at around 26 feet.

19.  Allosaurus lived during the Late Jurassic Period, around 155.7-150.8 MYA in the United States (Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, Oklahoma, and South Dakota), Portugal, and possibly the Tendaguru Beds of Tanzania, although many people believe that this is African animal is an entirely different animal from Allosaurus.

20.  Work began at the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry in 1960, and over 40 individual specimens of Allosaurus have been uncovered there since then.
Unarticulated bones of Allosaurus from the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry
21.  Due to the vast number of Allosaurus specimens discovered in all different stages of its growth development (especially from Cleveland-Lloyd), paleontologists have been able to estimate that Allosaurus reached full-size at around 15 years of age, and lived to around 22-28 years old.
A whole bunch of Allosaurus leg bones all put next to each other to show the growth of the animal, largely based upon bones found at the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry, which is where this picture was taken
22.  Fossils of Allosaurus are still being discovered to this day, a fact which I can personally attest to.  Blocks of stone are still being excavated at the Morrison Natural History Museum, and bones of Allosaurus, as well as its teeth, are currently being cleaned. 

23.  Allosaurus is the favorite dinosaur of the famous dinosaur educator, "Dino" George Blasing.

And remember, if you have a birthday coming up, just email me the date at with the date and your favorite animal, and I will do my best to get a post in!  And remember, if you like what you're reading, make sure you LIKE US ON FACEBOOK, follow us (if you have a google or gmail account), or hit the subscribe button off to the right if you don't!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Some Great Books - Just in Time For Christmas!

Christmas is just around the corner, and I'm guessing that some of you are not quite done with your holiday shopping, so I thought I would compile a list of some of my favorite animal and nature related books for you!  Check them out, I GUARANTEE you will like at least ONE of them!  Also, these aren't necessarily in order from favorite to least favorite, especially more towards the bottom.  Enjoy!

1.  Raptor Red - This fantastic novel by esteemed paleontologist Dr. Robert T. Bakker is unique, as far as I know, when it comes to the combination of accurate scientific information and a story told from the first-person viewpoint of a Utahraptor.  It might sound weird, to be sure, but don't judge it until you read it: this is one of the best books I have ever read!  I have only heard one person ever say that she didn't like it, but then I discovered that she had not read past the first chapter....oh well, fun isn't for everyone, I suppose!

2.  The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinction - This is another one of my most favorite books.  Written by David Quammen, it explores islands from all over the world, as well as some from the past, too, and also discusses how island biogeography can be used today to help stop the extinction of mainland species.  Fans of the well-known Jared Diamond (author of Guns, Germs, and Steel) will certainly enjoy this book and, in fact, Quammen references Diamond throughout the book, as well as many other eminent scientists.  Quammen's quick but subtle wit helps to make this book a classic.

3.  ZooBorns - Any book in this series will do.  I swear, I can look at these books for days upon end without getting bored.  These books are what inspired our very own "Zoo Babies" feature, and provide hours of entertainment, while being cute and informative at the same time.  As a report from the Seattle Post Intelligence says, "ZooBorns pulls off the difficult task of being cute and interesting for people of all ages while also being informative. Many books seek this lofty goal but most fail."  Couldn't have said it better myself, which is why I copied and pasted that sentence from the ZooBorns website.

4.  Tasmanian Tiger - The Tragic Tale of How the World Lost Its Most Mysterious Predator - This excellent, albeit sad, chronicle of the downfall of the Tasmanian Tiger, or Thylacine, is an absolute must-have for any nature fan out there.  Written by David Owen who, along with David Pemberton, wrote the similar book entitled Tasmanian Devil: A Unique and Threatened Animal (a book which I also highly recommend), both books are excellent reads.

5.  Dinosaur Odyssey - I believe that, on this blog, this book has been referenced more than any other and, in fact, I have built several posts around it, including our POST ABOUT ODDLY NAMED CREATURES, as well as our POST ABOUT WHAT REALLY KILLED THE DINOSAURS.  Written by Dr. Scott D. Sampson (or "Dr. Scott" to Dinosaur Train fans: yes, he is an actual paleontologist!), this book chronicles all of the essentials for anyone interested in dinosaurs, including their origin, their extinction, what makes a dinosaur a dinosaur, and so much more.  Definitely a top-pick!

6.  Chasing Kangaroos - Written by kangaroo expert Tim Flannery, this book talks all about the authors adventures with kangaroos across Australia and New Guinea, and talks about the evolution of kangaroos as well.  He delves into other aspects of Australia's history that have affected the kangaroos as well, including dingos, the arrival of humans, and the Ice Age, amongst other things.  Be sure to read about the ever-fascinating carnivorous kangaroo, Propleopus, one of my all-time favorite animals!

7.  Gorgon - Similar to Chasing Kangaroos in the style of writing, this book talks a great deal about the causes and effects of the great and mysterious Permian Extinction.  Written by the esteemed paleontologist Peter D. Ward, this book talks about the vast and dangerous Karoo Desert in South Africa, and also talks about the political events that were going on at the time, such as Apartheid.  An incredibly interesting, funny, but sometimes sad, book, Gorgon is an excellent read.

8.  Penguins: Past and Present, Here and There - Written by the late and highly-esteemed mammalian paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson, this book, though a bit dated, still seems to be one of the best extinct penguin books you can find.

9.  The Dinosaur Heresies - Another book by Dr. Bakker, this book, like the penguin one above, is also a bit dated, but nevertheless highly informative.  As we have talked about IN A PREVIOUS POST, Dr. Bakker and his mentor, John Ostrom, were highly instrumental in bringing about the so-called Dinosaur Rennaisance, an event that turned the long-standing idea of dinosaurs being slow, sluggish, and stupid on its head.  This book primarily talks about the various aspects of this idea, and is really quite interesting!

10.  Dinosaurs: The Most Complete, Up-To-Date Encyclopedia for Dinosaur Lovers of All Ages - Written by esteemed paleontologist Dr. Thomas R. Holtz, chock-full of excellent illustrations by the talented paleoartist Luis V. Rey, and equipped with "contributions by thirty-three of the world's leading paleontologists," this book is fantastic for people of all ages, and takes in the dinosaurs as a whole.  Fantastic book!

11.  Cheetah (Big Cat Diary) - If you aren't a fan of Big Cat Diary, well then GET ON THE TRAIN!  AMAZING SHOW!  THE SOAP OPERA OF THE SERENGETI!  But seriously, though, this FANTASTIC (and yes, I am quoting Jonathan Scott when I say that) show comes with several companion books, of which the cheetah one is easily my favorite.  Written by Mr. Scott and his wife, Angela Scott, this book has tons of amazing photographs and talks all about both cheetahs in general, as well as the specific cats on the show.

12.  Life of Mammals - Written by one of my personal heroes, Sir David Attenborough, this book is a companion book to the popular TV show by the same name.  The book has so many color photographs, and will introduce you hundreds of mammals from around the globe, many of which you probably have never heard of: I know I haven't heard of them all!

13.  Alex and Me - Written by famous scientist Dr. Irene Pepperberg, this book chronicles her work with the famous African gray parrot named Alex: one of my most favorite books, this book is a fascinating glimpse into the minds of those supposedly mindless automatons.  

14.  Planet Dinosaur - Just like Life of Mammals, this book is also a companion book to the TV show of the same name.  Many of the dinosaur-related topics that we have discussed on this blog I first learned from Planet Dinosaur, including the dwarf dinosaurs of Hațeg Island and the fact that Spinosaurus probably ate fish.  But be warned: when they tell you that Sinornithosaurus had a poisonous bite, just remember that this has been proven almost completely wrong.  

15.  The Big Cats and Their Fossil Relatives - This book goes into the various big cats from around the world and across time, and talks about various aspects of their fascinating anatomy.  Written by Mauricio Anton and Alan Turner.

16.  Tideland Treasure - Written by Todd Ballantine, this book is a compilation of the years of newspaper spots that he did.  Kind of hard to describe, but its almost like a comic.  Just buy the book to find out about what I am talking about, as well as learn all about the east coast of the United States!

17.  Forest Cats of North America - Written by Jerry Kobalenko (what a great last name!), this excellent book talks about the bobcat, Canadian lynx, and the mountian lion, and is quite entertaining: I got it at The Living Desert and read it all in one day, quite a good book!  It's where I got the information regarding the Canadian lynx/snowshoe hare population fluctuations from, back in our post about Propleopus.  

18.  Life-Size Dinosaurs - Should be pretty self explanatory!  Written by David Bergen.   

So let me know if you live near me and are interested in borrowing any of these books!  I have most of them and the ones that I don't currently have I will most likely be getting soon (boy that sounds ominous doesn't it).  Let me know!

Top Ten Favorite Dinosaurs by Zack Neher (Part 5)

At long last, here we go: the final installment in my top ten list of favorite dinosaurs.  

1. Therizinosaurus
Therizinosaurus is the namesake of the odd group of herbivorous Theropod dinosaurs known collectively as the Therizinosaurs.  These guys are related to the Oviraptors, Ornithomimosaurs, and the Alvarezsaurs, all of which are thought to have a largely plant-based diet.  This seems odd when you first think about it: plant-eating meat-eating dinosaurs?  But similar things occur today.  For example, the order Carnivora today includes many meat-eating animals such as cats and dogs, but also includes the bears, where plants and berries factor into their diet a great deal.  For some, like the panda, they eat almost entirely plants.  The Therizinosaurs have been likened to the recently extinct giant ground sloths in the fact that they seemed to have pot bellies in which to ferment their food, as well as enormous claws that probably helped a great deal in protection, as these guys were most certainly not the swiftest of runners.  Therizinosaurus is just so bizarre and wacky, which is what makes it my most favorite dinosaur!

Top Ten Favorite Dinosaurs by Zack Neher (Part 4.5)

As some of you may know, right now, we are in the midst of a lis of my  top ten favorite dinosaurs.  However, on December 7th, a new dinosaur was announced, and it has immediately made my top ten list if it is, in fact, a dinosaur, which is currently being debated.  Therefore, I have decided to make this guy number 4.5 on my list, as if this creature is a dinosaur, it may very well be one of the most important finds in the history of dinosaur paleontology, as the find, named Nyasasaurus, may be the ancestor of all dinosaurs! Since this fossil dates to the Middle Triassic Period and is estimated to be about 10-15 million years older than the previously-oldest known dinosaurs like Eoraptor and Herrerasaurus, if this animal is not, in fact, a dinosaur, it resides very close to the base of the dinosaurian family tree!  People around the world eagerly await more remains of this animal from being discovered in Tanzania (where the original fossils were discovered in the 1930s) or somewhere else in the world, in the hopes that some more light can be shed upon this controversy.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Invasion of the Great Horned Owls

Throughout my entire life, I had not seen more than a handful of owls in the wild, but in the last month (actually exactly a month ago today, on November 16th) I have seen owls on three different occasions, all three of which were great horned owls (Bubo virginianus), not to mention the two times that I saw the great horned owl parent and chicks at my grandparents house in the few months preceding that!  The largest owl of Central and South America and the second largest in North America (following the snowy owl), the great horned owl is actually closely related to the snowy owl, despite their very different outer appearances.  Despite its name, the "horns" on the head of the great horned owl are really just tufts of feathers.  The great horned owl is labeled as "Least Concern" by the IUCN. Also, this post is a birthday post for Joseph M. Roessler, happy birthday big guy!

One of the most notable features of the owls in general are their incredibly flexible necks.  Most birds of prey likes hawks, falcons, eagles, and vultures, have their eyes on opposite sides of their head.  Owls, however, like we humans, have binocular, or stereoscopic, vision.  This means that owls have to turn their heads a lot more than other birds of prey might in order to look all around.  In response to this, the owls have evolved the ability to turn their heads around 270 degrees, in either direction!
One of the great horned owls that my grandparents had in their backyard for a few months
Another interesting ability of the great horned owl, and owls in general, is their interesting method of digestion.  Birds nowadays don't have teeth, so they are unable to chew their food.  So most of the time, they (owls amongst them) swallow their food whole if they are unable to tear small chunks off of it.  This also means that the owl swallows the indigestible bits of its prey, such as the bones and the fur.  So after their meals, owls will regurgitate balls of the indigestible materials, colloquially referred to as "owl pellets!"

The great horned owl, more so than other owls, has an amazing crushing grip in its talons, around 300 pounds per square inch, which is more than the human hand is capable of!  There are also reports of cases in which the power exerted by the talons of the great horned owl matching those of much larger species of bird of prey, like the golden eagle.  The great horned owl is also capable of lifting prey that is several times heavier than they are.

What's on the menu for the great horned owl?  Where to begin!  Let's break it down by group, and give a few examples of each.  I am by no means including all of its prey items as that would take an immense amount of time. 

Where did I see the owls?  The first one was exactly a month ago when my friend Masaki Kleinkopf and I were heading back from seeing the new James Bond movie, Skyfall, which was really really good (but not as good, in my opinion, as The Hobbit, which we saw last night and which was fantastic).  We decided to take the back way, the bird of prey route between Boulder and Superior where one can frequently see red-tailed hawks, kestrels, turkey vultures, and golden eagles.  Instead, we saw a great horned owl!
A picture of one of the red-tailed hawks that I took yesterday on the Bird of Prey Route.  Not only is it an amazing bird in its own right, but it is also potential prey for the great horned owl.
The next two sightings were actually yesterday and the day before.  The first one was when my other friend Mona Kamath and I were driving along West 120th Ave., and we saw a great horned owl perched in a tree!  Yesterday, on my way home from the Morrison Museum, I took a brief detour to see if the owl was still there, and he was!  Not in the same tree, but in another tree that was quite close by!  How exciting!  Enjoy the pictures! 
And remember, if you have a birthday coming up, just email me the date at with the date and your favorite animal, and I will do my best to get a post in!  And remember, if you like what you're reading, make sure you LIKE US ON FACEBOOK, follow us (if you have a google or gmail account), or hit the subscribe button off to the right if you don't!
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