I'm looking forward to watching "Inside Nature's Giants" on SBS tonight. Dissecting and examining modern day large animals can lead to some interesting inferences about large dinosaur soft tissue anatomy. And of course, some of these animals are not often able to be dissected due to rarity or endangered/threatened status. I didn't realise that this is in fact a long running series, so it's off to the back catalogue for me!
Interesting Fact: Not all dinosaurs were giants!
It's really not surprising that small (relative to humans) dinosaurs existed: they were a dominant group, spread across the whole globe, persisting for ~200 million years, who filled most ecological niches (habitats with specific resources such as different food types). However, up until 2010, the only small dinosaurs described were theropods. Then along came the smallest known ornithischian, Fruitadens haagarorum.
Remember how I mentioned niches before? Basically, in any given environment, there are different food types to consume. If an animal can eat a variety of food types, it can occupy a variety of niches. The teeth of F. haagarorum, along with other heterodontosaurids, suggest they were omnivorous (eating both plants and animals). It is possible that this omnivory, and resulting occupation of many niches, was the reason for the 100 million year success of the heterodontosaurids.
Figure showing F. haagarorum jaws and teeth. The teeth aren't as tightly packed as you would expect in a herbivore, and along with a lack of tooth-on-tooth wear on the teeth, this suggests its diet didn't consist solely of plant material. Scalebars, (a,c,d) 5mm; (e) 10mm; (f) 0.15mm. From Butler et al., 2010.
Simplified cladogram of all dinosaurs. F. haagarorum was a heterodontosaurid, within ornithischia.
Butler, R., Galton, P., Porro, L., Chiappe, L., Henderson, D. and Erickson, G., 2010. Lower limits of ornithischian dinosaur body size inferred from a new Upper Jurassic heterodontosaurid from North America. Proc. Royal Soc. B 277: 375 - 381.
Butler, R., Porro, L., Galton, P., Chiappe, L., 2012. Anatomy and Cranial Functional Morphology of the Small-Bodied Dinosaur Fruitadens haagarorum from the Upper Jurassic of the USA. PLoS ONE 7(4): e31556. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0031556.
One of my earliest memories is from Kindergarten, when I wanted to play with some dinosaur toys. A group of boys were playing with them, and when I went to join in, they said, "These are boy toys, you have to play with the girl toys." They pointed to my female friend, who was playing with some puzzles. I remember being utterly confused as to why I couldn't play with dinosaurs, and why they were only for 'boys'. Luckily, I never encountered this problem again, and I remember my parents being super supportive of anything I was interested in, regardless of gender stereotypes.
Which is why this makes me sad:
These books aren't from the 1950's, nor the 1980's (my Kindergarten years), but are from... 2012! I've seen this before ('Boys' Weird Slime Lab and 'Girls' Perfect Perfume Lab is another example), and I was hoping that I wouldn't see it again. Colour gender stereotypes always annoy me, but I don't even have words for the level of stupidity displayed in these gendered books. The only similarity between them is "Surviving a Zombie Attack"! As some have suggested (here too), why not publish them as "How to Survive Nature" and "How to Survive People" or something? And the 'Boys Only' book has "How to Survive a T-Rex"! I would have loved that as a kid!
It's interesting that as adults, if someone dared tell us we couldn't have a particular hobby or career because of our sex, we'd knock them down (figuratively, of course). This doesn't mean people don't try, but we ignore them anyway. But as a child, would you know better?
Oh, and this apology? Not good enough, Scholastic! Apologies normally include words like "sorry", or at the very least, "regret". And don't advertise other parts of your website at the same time! Gah! Words, I have none!
Question: Is it possible to described my whole PhD project in 3 minutes?
Answer: ... hopefully yes?
Having given a pretty successful confirmation talk on Monday, I've decided to hone my public speaking skills and enter the Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition. The rules are:
1. Three minute total to describe the PhD (Ok, doesn't sound too impossible...)
2. Can use only one static powerpoint slide: no animations, no sound (Wha... How? How is this possible?)
3. No songs, poems or raps (Aww dang! Because I was definitely going to do a tapho-rap.)
4. No costumes or props (...and there goes my rotting crocodile carcass prop.)
It's a good thing there's lots of 3MT information sessions and training days coming up!
About the author
Dr Caitlin Syme is a palaeontologist who recently finished her PhD at The University of Queensland, studying the taphonomy (preservation state) of fossil non-avian dinosaurs, crocodiles and fish from the Winton Formation, Queensland, Australia. Think forensic science or CSI for fossils, and you're on the right track!
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