Thursday, February 26, 2015

Alien Vs. Predator Vs. Parasaurolophus

A few days ago, I sat down and, with several hours of homework to do, watched Ridley Scott's 1979 classic "Alien."  It was phenomenal, and I enjoyed it, and went on to watch Predator (great) and Prometheus (not so great).  Now, on this excellent but snowy Thursday afternoon, I'm about an hour into "Aliens," knowing that any second now an Alien xenomorph is going to appear out of nowhere and kill something.  But that's not why I paused the movie at the 54:44 minute mark.  What I've been thinking about is far more pressing: what's the purpose of that enormously distended xenomorph cranium?
If you have no idea what's going on in this picture yet, that means you're probably sane.
Usually with aliens, you can just pass off a big head as an indicator of big brains.  Ki-Adi Mundi from Star Wars, for example, has two brains in that big 'ol Cerean cranium of his, and an extra heart to boot.  If you rewatch "A New Hope" extra carefully, see if you can't spot Pons Limbic (note the brainy pun) in the Mos Eisley Cantina, the big-brained Siniteen whose head literally resembles a brain.  The Guardians of the Universe from the D.C. Comics franchise are often pretty wise, but in light of some recent events, they might not be quite as level headed and emotion spectrumless as we thought (but that's a story for another bright snowy day).  The Face of Boe from Doctor Who seems to be pretty smart, given that he's literally just a giant head in a tank and can communicate telepathically.  Then there's Zilius Zox, a Red Lantern from the D.C. universe, who also appears to be little more than a giant head.  Both Jumba (from Disney's "Lilo and Stitch") and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial) seem to have noggins that are larger than average in proportion to body size, and seem to have above average intelligence to match.  Marvin the Martian and Roger from American Dad?  Both smart, both big-headed.
A skull of the duck-billed hadrosaur Parasaurolophus at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, from my visit last summer with my good friend Zach Evens (who also deserves some credit listing big-brained aliens).
Now what about the aliens, or xenomorphs, from the "Alien" franchise?  Although undeniably intelligent to some degree, they aren't what you'd typically think of when the subject of brainy aliens comes up around the dinner table, at least not in terms of processing power.  But they definitely have big heads.  So what are they used for if not for thinking?  We, of course, can turn to the science of dinosaur paleontology to help us with this question.  Take a look at the dinosaur skull above.  This critter is a hadrosaur, or duck-billed dinosaur, called Parasaurolophus.  Scientists believe that it blew air through its special crest to produce a sound very similar to that of a trombone!  Many hadrosaurs had wild cranial ornamentation, as did other dinosaurs such as some of the ceratopsians and the pachycephalosaurs, just to name a few.  These wacky head-dos almost certainly had a whole lot to do with attracting a mate and sexual selection.  Essentially, the bigger your crest is, the more attractive you are.  Is it possible a similar sort of thing evolved for the Alien xenomorphs?  In "Aliens," we can see that the queen has a different head pattern than do all of the other xenomorphs that we've seen so far, indicating some sort of sexual dimorphism is potentially at work.  Interesting.  What should you take from this blog post?  Probably just that I have way too much time on my hands.

On a brief side note, I realized I've actually talked about the skull of the xenomorphs previously, before I'd even seen the movies.  Check out that post, all about otter skulls, by clicking HERE.
Alien vs. predator vs. Parasaurolophus vs. Tyrannosaurus vs. Lego Gilderoy Lockhart vs. Darth Vader vs. Polly Pocket vs. creepy frog candle vs. macaw vs. Apatosaurus vs. medieval archer vs. Boba Fett Pez Dispenser vs. Ambelodon vs. mallard vs. fisherman from an ironic fish cake vs. Jumba vs. Craire Cat Hello Thingy vs. six different types of shark vs. Taz monster truck vs. Aragorn son of Arathorn vs. Liam Payne vs. Marty from "Pirates of the Caribbean" vs. mouse cat toy vs. basilisk lizard vs. Spider-Man vs. penguins with jet packs and missile launchers vs. Themistocles vs. Terri Irwin.  And this is why it takes me so long to write a blog post.  I think we were all a little surprised about how quickly things escalated.  Yeah, I definitely have too much time on my hands.

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