Saturday, September 22, 2007

Don't worry, they'll add it to the Collector's Edition DVD

Researchers at the American Museum of Natural History have discovered evidence that velociraptor (Velociraptor mongoliensis) had feathers. Velociraptors, as you may know, were made popular by Jurassic Park and its sequels. The size and cognitive ability of raptors was greatly exaggerated in the movies (to my dismay), and their presentation was very lizard like. This partly reflected the consensus of the paleontological community at that time. More recently, much evidence has been found supporting the view that raptors were small (think medium-size dog) and quite like modern birds.

The presence of quill knobs on a new fossil's forearms indicates that it most likely had feathers. Quill knobs are bony protrusions that serve as anchor points for feathers in modern birds. The researchers note the number of feathers on Velociraptor likely matched that of Archaeopteryx, the first reptile found to have feathers. This all provides further support for the now well-accepted view that dinosaurs (reptiles) are the direct ancestors of modern birds.

Figure to the left: Top two are the raptor fossil. The third down is a modern turkey vulture. You can see the similarity in quill-knob bumps.

This is all very cool, but I find myself wishing that raptors were actually more like those in Jurassic Park. The older I get, the less kick ass dinosaurs become. Tyrannosaurous rex, to me once the king of all predators, is now known to have been a moderately-sized, tiny-armed scavenger. It is sacrilege! Damn you, Steven Speilberg, for exaggerating the prowess of my favorite extinct animals!

At least megalodon has not been dethroned (yet).

Source: Turner et al. 2007. Feather Quill Knobs in the Dinosaur Velociraptor. Science, 317, 1721.

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