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Tavern WatchMay 5, 2016 12:00 pm CT

Tavern Queue: Dinosaurs

So this is the Tavern Queue, which is like The Queue, only not even tangentially about Blizzard games.

This week I’m talking about dinosaurs, because for some reason Adam thought I’d be interested in talking about dinosaurs. I have no idea where he got that notion.

The header image is from the TV series Primeval, which was a pretty solid little show.

I don’t know what the topic of the next Tavern Queue will be. Feel free to suggest one in the comments of this post. So let’s go talk about dinosaurs.


QFTavernQ: Is it theoretically plausible that deep-sea life may be from a Dinosaur era? Thinking like Marianas Trench deep.

I would argue it’s extremely unlikely that we’ll find anything like a mosasaur or liopleurodon down there, but it’s possible, yes, if just very tenuously so.

This is the coelacanth. It’s often brought up as an example of a species thought extinct since the Cretaceous (66 million years ago) and as such it’s popular in cryptozoological circles, but let’s remember — the coelacanth is a deep sea fish, it breaths water, not air. All marine reptiles were air breathers, like modern whales. So while it’s possible that a marine life form from the era of the dinosaurs (the Mesozoic, as opposed to our own Cenozoic) could have survived in the ocean, the likelihood of anything larger and less adapted to the oceans than a coelacanth going unnoticed until now is extremely remote.

That doesn’t mean I’m not rooting for an enormous pliosaur or mosasaur to come rocketing out of the ocean and swallow a boat or something. I just accept that it’s not very likely at all. On the other hand, sharks date back to 420 million years ago, well before even the Mesozoic era, so in a way it’s not only plausible but extremely common for deep sea life to be from that time period. There were many sharks in the 180 million years of the Mesozoic.

Jennifer Mills
QftavernQ : What caused you to be so interested in Dinosaurs?

I was once a small child.

Seriously, that’s basically it. I was a small child, I liked dinosaurs. Then I grew up and I realized that prehistoric life in general (and dinosaurs in particular) are absolutely fantastic, amazing glimpses at the ways life can and has developed over the course of hundreds of millions of years. We tend to think of the past in narrative terms — humans tell stories and use stories to explain natural phenomena, that’s where we got myths from. But the true scope of prehistory is staggering — billions of years for life to progress from ooze to multicellular organisms, hundreds of millions for it to organize into the variety we see today. Looking at Achillobator giganticus and realizing this was a real, living creature that moved and ate and excreted and hunted and eventually died, that it was real and that it was a form of life at once like and unlike anything we have today just astonishes me. To look at a sparrow or chickadee and realize that thing is descended from something like a Nyasasaurus or Herrerasaurus, that these animals were part of vast, thriving ecosystems that lasted for longer than humanity has even existed, it’s something I find compelling.

So yeah. I was once a child, but I did not put away my childish things.

Since we both live in Alberta: Who’d win in a fight? T-rex or Albertosaurus?

Both Albertosaurus and Tyrannosaurus Rex were in the family Tyrannosauridae. But this doesn’t make them even remotely in the same weight class. Before I answer your question, I should point out that Albertosaurus lived roughly four million years before Tyrannosaurus Rex — the two animals were not contemporaries and would not have encountered one another any more than you are likely to meet australopithecus.

Now that I’ve said that, the who would win question is extremely easy to answer. Albertosaurus weighed in at 1.2 to 1.3 metric tons. Tyrannosaurus has been estimated at 6.8 to 7.2 metric tons. Tyrannosaurus was also taller, longer, and had much larger and more powerful jaws. If these two animals encountered one another, Albertosaurus would likely turn and run away, using its likely greater speed to escape the Tyrannosaurus. If it did not, it would likely die. The much larger Tyrannosaurus weighed more than three times as much as an Albertosaurus, it wouldn’t even be a contest.

If you were hired to work on a new “Jurassic” film, what dinosaur(s) would you introduce, and why?

Honestly, there are so many dinosaurs to include, and other prehistoric animals as well, it’s a case of being starved for choice. I’d love to see Therizinosaurus, for example. I’d love to see Troodon and other small feathered dinosaur/birds to help emphasize that modern birds are the continuation of the dinosaurs — that as long as birds exist, dinosaurs aren’t extinct — and I’d especially like to see Troodon due to it having one of the largest brain to body mass ratios in dinosaurs. You want a smart dinosaur? Troodon is your beast.

And as for a terrifying enemy, a Tyrannosaurus size monster, well, you don’t have to make up a superdino — the fossil record already has you covered. Giganotosaurus was one of the most massive therapod dinosaurs ever to live. Unlike Spinosaurus, this was a terrestrial carnivore and some argue that it might have displayed communal hunting behavior — if not an actual pack predator, several Giganotosaurus would get together to hunt large sauropods. Imagine seeing that in a movie — instead of a pack of raptors, you’d have a pack of dinosaurs bigger than a T.Rex.

Honestly, if I sat here and tried to list all the dinosaurs I wanted to see in a movie, this post would be 43,000 words long and it would just be me describing every dinosaur in The Princeton Field Guide to Dinosaurs. I mean, has Anchiornis huxleyi ever been in a Jurassic Park film? Also, why aren’t they called Mesozoic Park films? They don’t just use Jurassic dinosaurs. Hell, most of the dinosaurs we see in Jurassic World are Cretaceous animals, as is the mosasaur at the end that saves the day.

Honestly, though, if I were working on a Jurassic Park movie I’d want them to get their reconstructions up to date. Many theropods should have feathers — both Tyrannosaurus and the raptors absolutely should, and I’m tired of the ‘but they explained that in the movie’ BS. I don’t care if there’s a plot reason, update the freaking plot so that they’re making more accurate dinosaurs. I’m not saying to stick feathers on a sauropod — there’s no evidence they had them — but on a closely related theropod like a T.Rex or a Deinonychus (the Jurassic series raptors are much closer to Deinonychus than an actual Velociraptor, or even something like Achillobator or Utahraptor) there should be feathers.

And oh yeah, get some Dakotaraptors in there. They’re the new hotness.

Was the Brontosaurus a real dinosaur, or have all my childhood dreams been crushed? What about Triceratops? Were they just the adolescent from of some other dino?

See, I grew up with Apatosaurus as the established dinosaur, and Brontosaurus as the nomen dubium, so to me the restoration of Brontosaurus as a unique species is the destruction of a cherished dream.

Okay, not really. I’m happy either way. But as of right now, there’s some consensus that Brontosaurus Excelsius and two other species are more validly named as Brontosaurs than Apatosaurs. That doesn’t mean it’s settled — Donald Prothero would tell you that we need a lot more research to conclusively answer the debate — but the statistical study done in 2015 was one of the most complete ever undertaken and it’s fairly conclusively in agreement with Robert Bakker that Brontosaurus Excelsius is a separate genus from Apatosaurus.

In the case of Triceratops, even if the studies had concluded that Triceratops was a juvenile form of Torosaurus (which they ultimately have not done) it’s important to note that Triceratops was the older designation, and it would have remained. So if Torosaurus was definitively proved to be a mature Triceratops (which it was not) we would simply have renamed all Torosaurus, not lost Triceratops.

However, let me be clear — a study of over 35 specimens did not conclude that Torosaurus and Triceratops are the same species. While they are close relatives, it would be necessary for several absolutely unusual changes to take place in the Triceratops skull and frill to make one become a Torosaurus as it aged. Andrew Farke made this point in 2011.

So as of right now, Brotosaurus is a valid species again (although don’t get too excited, that study could always be refuted) and Triceratops remains valid.

Okay, that’s probably enough dinosaur talk out of me today. I promise I’ll check the comments if you have anything else you want to talk about, and remember to leave suggestions for the next Tavern Queue.

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