Dinosaurs of the Month
The tools of paleontologists continue to turn up interesting things. Here are some of the latest dinosaur discoveries reported this month:
- Mighty mouth: An African theropod with massive, shark-like teeth was found in the African Sahara, reported National Geographic News and PhysOrg. It was named Eocarcharia dinops, or “fierce-eyed dawn shark.” Another similar individual, presumed to be a scavenger, was named Kryptops palaios, “old hidden face” had a bony horn that covered much of its face. National Geographic posted a gallery of artist’s reconstructions.
- Mighty duck: In Mexico, giant duck-billed hadrosaur remains were found, reported National Geographic and Science Daily. These specimens were said to be 35 feet in length. Till now, dinosaur bones in Mexico have been rare. Terry Gates (Utah Museum of Natural History) said, “The crested duck-billed dinosaurs are an extraordinary example of vertebrate evolution.”
- Sparrowsaur: In China, the smallest pterosaurs ever found have come to light (see National Geographic and Live Science). These toothless flying reptiles were only about the size of a sparrow – 10 inches or so (see artist reconstruction). Like birds, they had curved digits that probably helped them grasp the branches of trees. Found in the rich fossil beds of China’s Liaoning province, the species was named Nemicolopterus crypticus. by the discoverers who published their findings in PNAS.1
Alexander Kellner (Museu Nacional/Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro) pieced pterosaurs into a vision of evolutionary progress: “The general idea was at some point we had these very primitive pterosaurs – very low down on the evolutionary tree – that were living on insects. At some point pterosaurs learned to feed on fish.” He said the find “opens a new chapter on the evolutionary history of this group of volant [flying] reptiles.”
For a twist on who eats whom, Science Daily reported fossils of a giant frog from Madagascar that may have fed on baby dinosaurs. They named it Beelzebufo – “the frog from hell.” The find was published in PNAS,2 where the authors said that it “suggests that the initial radiation of hyloid anurans began earlier than proposed by some recent estimates.” It was also found on a different continent – Africa – far from South America where such frogs were thought to have evolved. See also the BBC News and Science Daily for an artist’s rendering of the mean ol’ frog. The latter article claims that the monster leaped across continents and ate dinosaurs. Co-discoverer David Krause is quoted, “What’s a ‘South American’ frog doing half-way around the world, in Madagascar?” There must have been a land bridge – through Calaveras County.
1. Wang, Kellner, Zhou, Campos, “Discovery of a rare arboreal forest-dwelling flying reptile (Pterosauria, Pterodactyloidea) from China,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, published online on February 11, 2008, 10.1073/pnas.0707728105.
2. Evans, Jones, Krause, “A giant frog with South American affinities from the Late Cretaceous of Madagascar,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, Published online on February 19, 2008, 10.1073/pnas.0707599105.
Some paleontologists estimate we have only found 27% of the dinosaurs that actually lived (11/22/2004). This means that new, exotic discoveries can be expected for many years to come. Exciting as each new unusual form is, one cannot assume that the diversity in the dinosauria exceeds that in other groups, such as insects. Dinosaurs stand out in our minds because of their size and the fact they are all extinct. In many groups of plants and animals, the fossil record is richer than the living inventory.
One should remember also that classification is a very human enterprise. Paleontologists win honors for naming a species. This can lead to species bloat – too much splitting of similar specimens into separate species. With fossils, one cannot know the natural amount of variation that was present due to diet, climate, development, genetic isolation or other factors. One cannot know which ones were capable of interbreeding. One also cannot compare the DNA of different dinosaurs (yet). The count of dinosaur species and genera is a function of the classification scheme used. Jones may want to name his find Magnificentosaurus jonesii but that doesn’t make it different from Majesticosaurus smithii. Another factor leading to the impression that new dinosaurs are popping up all over is selective reporting. “More of the same” doesn’t make news as much as something new and different.
These finds, nevertheless, should inspire the young to realize there is still much to discover. Join the treasure hunt. Replace the old guard paleontologists who can’t kick the smoking habit (i.e., the addicts who exude smokescreens of fogma about millions of years, primitive forms, and new chapters in evolution). Let the bones do the talking. They know how to remain silent. Evolutionists have not yet learned that anything they say can and will be used against them in the court of public opinion (09/30/2007 commentary).