Saturday, May 23, 2015

Shedding pet dinosaurs

Q. Did dinosaurs peel or shed their skins?

A. Presumably, said Mark A. Norell, chairman of the division of paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History. But not all at once.

“Since we can’t directly observe extinct animals, we need to look at close relatives,” Dr. Norell said. “Birds are living dinosaurs, crocodilians their closest relatives. Both shed skin in patches and strips, not entire skins like snakes.

“Because crocodiles and birds share a common ancestor, we predict this skin-shedding style was present in that ancestor,” he continued. “Nonbird dinosaurs descend from this same ancestor. Without other information, we predict that even giant dinosaurs exfoliated their dead dry skin in patches.”

Everything that has skin sheds it, Dr. Norell emphasized, but there is a tremendous diversity in how skin sheds. In humans, for example, rubbing the dry skin of an arm across something black leaves a white scuff of dead skin cells, he said. And in birds, skin dries and sloughs off as small patches, like peeling after a bad sunburn.

Reptile shedding usually conjures visions of whole snakeskins, shed as a continuous piece, “looking like the ghost of a living serpent,” Dr. Norell said. But this is an anomaly; most animals do it differently. Typical reptiles — lizards, crocodiles and turtles — shed dry, irregular skin patches, and that is probably how dinosaurs did it, he said.

Link to NYTimes Question

Friday, May 22, 2015

Field Station: Dinosaurs making way for a highschool

'Field Station: Dinosaurs' park in Secaucus opening for final season

Outdoor prehistoric theme park "Field Station: Dinosaurs" will open tomorrow for its final season in Secaucus.

Park hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at 1 Dinosaur Way, Secaucus. The land of which the park sits will become the site of a new high school.

Originally opened in 2012, Field Station: Dinosaur was named Best Local Theme Park by Time Out New York that same year.

The themed family attraction has several different areas where participants can take part in games and workshops to receive stamps on their "passport," which they receive when they enter the park.

Featuring more than thirty life size moving dinosaurs, the various areas of the park include the base camp, the fire pit, amphitheater, the quarry, the lookout, and the plateau.


Wednesday, May 13, 2015


How Bird Beaks Got Their Start As Dinosaur Snouts

Scientists say they have reversed a bit of bird evolution in the lab and re-created a dinosaurlike snout in developing chickens.

"In this work, we can clearly see a comeback of the characteristics which we see in some of the first birds," says Arhat Abzhanov, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard University.

The ancestors of birds are a group of dinosaurs that includes the famous velociraptor, Abzhanov says. This group of meat-eaters had long snouts, small brains and eyes, and lots of teeth. Somehow they transformed into birds, which have none of those things.

Bhart-Anjan Bhullar, another member of the research team at Yale University, says the goal is to understand exactly how birds became birds. "What's the deep history of birdiness?" wonders Bhullar. "How did the different parts of their body plan form?"

In particular, he and his colleagues are interested in birds' distinctive beak, which Bhullar calls "this insane sort of snout that they have."

To hunt for clues about the origin of the beak, the researchers have been studying various kinds of animal embryos, from birds like emus and chickens to nonbird reptiles like alligators, which are birds' closest living relatives.

Their work led them to two specific genes. These genes are active in the middle of the face-forming region of bird embryos, but not in the middle of that region in the embryos of other animals.
The team did an experiment to see what would happen if they blocked the effect of that localized gene activity in chicken embryos.

Bhullar says he remembers the night he put the altered, developing chicks under a microscope, and saw that they had unusual, broad snouts.

"That was a pretty remarkable moment," he recalls. "That's a moment that will stay with me, I think."

Link to full article

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Kids Bring Box of Poop to American Museum of Natural History

Bed Bugs & Fossilized Dinosaur Poop Surface At AMNH's Identification Day

Once a year, kids with bubble-wrapped bones and sandwich bags full of nubby rocks crowd around precision-lit folding tables in the American Museum of Natural History's Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Hall.

"We put this day on the calendar," said Caitlin Trasande, whose sons Camilo, 6, and Ramiro, 5, had just learned that the rocks they collected at Lake Taghkanic last summer contain 450-million-year-old marine fossils. "We were waiting and waiting for this day to come." Camilo, especially, couldn't believe it. "This was a flat snail that lived!" he shrieked, jumping up and down. "A brachiopod is a filter-feeding animal that usually lives in shells! You can see the imprint of the snail itself!"

Nearby, Entomologist Lou Sorkin held a sealed pill bottle of living bed bugs up to the light. A tiny camera projected the bugs onto a flat-screen television behind him. Sorkin studies bed bug infestations within New York apartment buildings, and he'll proudly show you the raw, red patch of skin on back of his hand where he lets them feed. Yesterday, he helped a nervous New Yorker identify a picture of a biting bug from her apartment. It was a mite.

On Identification Day, museum-staff Anthropologists, Paleontologists, Zoologists, and Ornithologists invite New Yorkers to bring in puzzling shells, artifacts, rocks, and occasionally insects and feathers. Equipped with magnifying glasses and comparison specimens from the museum collection, they start by asking for context—where did this bone come from? Did you find it on Rockaway Beach, or did you buy it on eBay? Paleontologist Carl Mehling admits that, "More than fifty percent of the time it's pure imagination. Someone will come in and say, 'This looks like a dinosaur skull!' But it's just a rock. When I hear something fantastic like that, I'm already concocting my gentle letdown."

That was the case for Joey Rosado and his son Javier, who like to visit Coney Island the day after a big storm, to collect bones and rocks that get spit out onto the sand. Javier handed over two sharp bones that he hoped came from a dinosaur. But Mehling quickly identified them as "left-over barbecue," citing the clean-cut edges that could only come from a bone saw.

There are exceptions, though. A few years ago, a woman showed Mehling a skull that she had found on the beach in Virginia. "Immediately I could see that it was part of a walrus skull. I knew that it couldn't be modern, because walruses today are strictly arctic. The skull is probably tens of millions of years old." And yesterday, even Mehling was surprised when a shoebox full of fossilized dinosaur poop landed on his table. Bridget, who lives in Manhattan, found the poop on a construction site when she was traveling in Berkshire, England.

Poop is one of Mehling's specialities, and it's notoriously hard to identify. "It's really, really hard to know what kind of animal fossilized poop came from, because, unlike a body part, poop doesn't have to look a certain way," he explained. "And when a creature poops, it's not obligated to hang out and die right next to it."

Full story and lots more pictures here