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Albertonykus's avatar

Nostalgia and the Golden Age

All too often I see assertions that some person's childhood has been ruined forever because real dinosaurs were nothing like what they grew up with.

Take dromaeosaurids, for example. People complain about how uncool real dromaeosaurids were after learning that they were actually ambush predators lacking adaptations for fast running and were no smarter than the least intelligent birds living today, unlike what Jurassic Park and almost all other popular media depict. And they had feathers, but Your Mileage May Vary on how uncool that is. (I personally find assertions that feathered maniraptors are uncool ridiculous. A naked chicken doesn't look cooler than a feathered chicken. A naked eagle certainly doesn't look cooler than a feathered eagle. Why would a naked dromaeosaurid be cooler than a feathered one?)

But they ignore all the cool stuff we have learned about them. They could climb trees. They had very strong bites for their size, so they could attack prey larger than themselves. (But a coyote-sized dromaeosaurid, or even a group, killing an elephant-sized ornithopod is as ridiculous as it's always been.) They could fly, and those that couldn't probably had ancestors that could. They were carnivores that had herbivorous and omnivorous ancestors. That's a nice set of cool facts right there. And, frankly, people who like Jurassic Park "raptors" instead of real dromaeosaurids don't actually like dromaeosaurids. They like made up monsters.

There's nothing wrong with liking made up monsters or outdated dinosaurs, as long as we realize that they're just made up and outdated. And just because people like made up monsters or outdated dinosaurs doesn't mean they can't also like real dinosaurs. I'm certain many people like both. But a real problem is when people refuse to accept the existence of real dinosaurs because they grew up with made up monsters. I actually don't understand this point of view, because I don't see how growing up with something makes it true. I grew up thinking the third finger of Daubentonia madagascariensis was longer than its fourth finger, but it's not. In science (including and especially paleontology), one must always be prepared to abandon what you think you know if enough evidence turns up to invalidate it. Even things we thought were true a few months or years ago may have already been overturned. One may prefer older, falsified ideas over newer, more accurate ones, but realize that preferences have nothing to do with reality.
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On intelligence:

Is there even a way to tell the intellect of an extinct animal? After all sauropsids punch way out of proportion when it comes to cognitive capacity vs brain size.
Albertonykus's avatar
Right, I'm currently of the stance we can, at best, only get a very rough idea of cognitive abilities from the fossil record. I would be interested to see if the high neuronal density that has been found in some birds is widespread among reptiles.
In extant taxa it seems predatory species, and generalized omnivores, have quite high intellect.

Since most theropods are and were omnivores or carnivores.....
Lediblock2's avatar
I don't know, can feathered raptors be smarter than an opossum?
MerkavaDragunov's avatar
could be if you're looking towards the troodon
maybe one of the large or small ones are
the only small one i could mention that has any relation to any bird to day is the crow/ravens
Lediblock2's avatar
I was being sarcastic, dude.
MerkavaDragunov's avatar
okay sorry i did not see that
Lediblock2's avatar
Megalotitan's avatar
I don't care if people like the JP franchise ITSELF, or even the JP dinosaurs, as long as they either accept feathered dinosaurs or ignore them. The problem is that the JP fanboys say 'Velociraptor didn't have feathers!', 'feathered dinosaurs don't look scary' and so on.
PCAwesomeness's avatar
That, and feathers have zero chance of ruining something's ferocity. 
You might want to put slow moving in quotations, because even the slowed down (from previous 80km/h versions) versions are still fast (plus they are a lot more agile, and that is what you really need to chase prey. No point running only in a straight line.)

Also, just because they couldn't run at 80km/h (which I agree with) does not mean they couldn't run at 25-45km/h (which is still terrifying enough, we can only do 20m/h), or be unable to run for long periods of time.
SpongeBobFossilPants's avatar
But I miss having alvarezsaurs, Protarchaeopteryx & Caudipteryx as avialans!

On the other hand, things like scansoriopterygids, troodontids and Balaur are avialans now, so I guess that balances things out. ;)
ProcrastinatingStill's avatar
Yeah. I like them feathered.
The pack hunting thing isn't completely thown out(as least not for Deinonychus). There is a fossil trackway of raptors that suggest coordinated pack behavior. So at least some of them hunted in packs.
Albertonykus's avatar
The trackway shows them walking together in a group; that's about as far as we can reasonably infer. I wouldn't completely throw out pack hunting either (in fact, I'll probably remove the passage here that implies otherwise), but it's a lot more speculative than a lot of us would like.
randomdinos's avatar
I always thought that I were perfectly cool with the new dromaeosaurs, but quite often catch myself imagining the outdated depictions or even Jurassic Park monsters instead >.<
Lediblock2's avatar
So? There's nothing wrong with inaccurate dinosaurs; as long as people acknowledge that they aren't what really existed, I see no issue with them.
randomdinos's avatar
'' as long as people acknowledge that they aren't what really existed...''

If the first thing that comes to someone's head when they hear ''insert dinosaur name here'' is the JP version, then there is a problem because that's exactly what they're failing to do. Which is OK as long as they seek to learn otherwise.
Lediblock2's avatar
Here's the thing, though: kids generally want to learn more about things that they like. All we have to do is make sure that dinosaur books have accurate dinosaurs, and we're golden.
randomdinos's avatar
That would work on probably half, or less than half of dinosaur-loving children, because most of them are ikely more interested by TV programs about the subject than books. Especially those who have lots of action... which just happen to be stupid mockumentaries that distort, ignore or simply make up scientific-sounding research, while at the same time claiming to be top-notch accurate. JFC, MR/MB, CotD...

Now, making accurate dinosaurs in dinosaur books + exchanging the mockumentaries for actual documentaries with actual research, then that'd be golden.
Lediblock2's avatar
Yeah, documentaries like those are what I have problems with.
I just wanted to share what I’ve learned since my last comment.

Short Version: I overestimated non-avian dino intelligence & underestimated fowl intelligence.

Long Version: Based on what I’ve since read (E.g. See the 1st 3 quotes), 1) Archaeopteryx were probably as intelligent as domestic chickens (& thus, fell “about mid- range on the intelligence scale of birds”), & 2) non-avian maniraptorans were probably either as intelligent as or more intelligent than Archaeopteryx (I’m thinking the latter, given the Bakker quote’s emphasis on the difference btwn wild & domestic fowl, intelligence-wise). I was originally thrown off by the facts that 1) non-avian maniraptorans probably had the intelligence for pack-hunting (See the Buchholtz quote), & 2) the only pack-hunting birds I knew of were diurnal raptors, corvids, & shrikes. However, I’ve since learned that ground hornbills (which, as indicated by the Firestone et al. quote, are turkey-like birds, behavior-wise) are also pack-hunting birds (See the Tudge quote).

Quoting Burish et al. (See “Abstract”: [link] ): “Vertebrate brains vary tremendously in size, but differ- ences in form are more subtle. To bring out functional contrasts that are independent of absolute size, we have normalized brain component sizes to whole brain vol- ume. The set of such volume fractions is the cerebrotype of a species. Using this approach in mammals we pre- viously identified specific associations between cerebro- type and behavioral specializations. Among primates, cerebrotypes are linked principally to enlargement of the cerebral cortex and are associated with increases in the complexity of social structure. Here we extend this analy- sis to include a second major vertebrate group, the birds. In birds the telencephalic volume fraction is strongly cor- related with social complexity. This correlation accounts for almost half of the observed variation in telencephalic size, more than any other behavioral specialization ex- amined, including the ability to learn song. A prominent exception to this pattern is owls, which are not social but still have very large forebrains. Interpolating the overall correlation for Archaeopteryx, an ancient bird, suggests that its social complexity was likely to have been on a par with modern domesticated chickens. Telencephalic vol- ume fraction outperforms residuals-based measures of brain size at separating birds by social structure. Telen- cephalic volume fraction may be an anatomical sub- strate for social complexity, and perhaps cognitive abili- ty, that can be generalized across a range of vertebrate brains, including dinosaurs.”

Quoting Riggs et al. ( [link] ): “Some birds mimic the sounds of other birds and animals; few other animals mimic sounds. You can’t, however, teach chickens to talk as you can with some bird species, and they don’t mimic other animals, and so chickens probably fall about mid- range on the intelligence scale of birds.”

Quoting Walsh (See “Reptiles including nonavian dinosaurs and birds”: [link] ): “It is now clear that while some theropod clades pos-sessed typically ‘reptile’-like brains (Giffin et al. 1988; Gif-fin 1989; Rogers 1999; Brochu 2000; Franzosa and Rowe 2005; Sanders and Smith 2005; Witmer and Ridgely 2009), at least some maniraptoran theropods had surpris-ingly bird-like brains (Kundra´t 2007; Balanoff et al. 2009; Norell et al. 2009). In these taxa, not only is the telen-cephalon significantly enlarged (sometimes to an extent greater than in Archaeopteryx), but flight-related regions such as the cerebellar flocculus, which are especially enlarged in birds, are also very well developed (Kundra´t 2007). This has fuelled the debate about whether these taxa, which often bear feathers, are in fact secondarily flightless birds rather than bird-like theropods (Witmer 2009; Kavanau 2010).”

Quoting Bakker ( [link] ): “These mini-raptors were big-brained by dinosaur standards — as smart as a wild turkey (not the dumbed-down domestic version). Their eyes were huge — an adaptation for chasing nimble prey, like furry mammals and tree-climbing lizards. The extra-long arms and fingers gave the raptors three-dimensional abilities — they could scramble up trees quadrupedally, grabbing branches with claws on front and back paws. Long feathers on the arms and legs let the raptors glide from branch to branch like dino-flying squirrels.”

Quoting Buchholtz ( [link] ): “Endocasts of small coelurosaurs (Russell 1969, 1972; Colbert and Russell 1969; Kundrát 2007) display a strikingly different anatomical pattern (Fig. 10.6). They retain details of brain anatomy and roofing bone sutures on their surfaces, suggesting that the brain filled the braincase nearly completely. Brain flexures are minimal and olfactory bulbs are small, indicating that smell was not a dominant sense. Cerebral hemispheres are separable, convex, and expanded laterally and/or posteriorly (Kundrát 2007), suggesting an active intelligence. The large optic lobes are visible either dorsally or displaced laterally by the large cerebrum, as in living birds. Russell (1969) associated the large optic lobes with large eyes and binocular vision, and it is likely that sight was the dominant sense. Kundrát (2007) described an expanded cerebellum with presumptive cerebellar folia among the avianlike characters of the oviraptorid theropod Conchoraptor, inferring excellent balance and coordination.
Encephalization quotients of small coelurosaurs vary with predictions of body mass and percentage of braincase fill, but even conservatively, they are far higher than those of any other dinosaur group, overlapping those of living birds (Hopson 1977; Kundrát 2007). Larsson et al. (2000) estimated cerebral volumes by superimposing ellipsoids on endocasts with surficial indications of cerebral extent. Their data suggest at least three stages of increase of relative cerebral size to total brain size over a period of only 40 million years: of coelurosaurs over allosaurs, of Archaeopteryx over coelurosaurs, and of ornithurine birds over Archaeopteryx. The high encephalization values of small coelurosaurs indicate an active, complex, and social lifestyle that agrees well with their frequent interpretation as pack hunters.”

Quoting Firestone et al. ( [link] ): “The largest of Africa’s hornbills, the ground hornbill is almost entirely terrestrial, and is also the only Southern African bird that walks on the tips of its toes. Like a large turkey (and the ground hornbill is sometimes mistakenly called the turkey buzzard), small groups patrol grasslands and open woodland looking for prey.”

Quoting Tudge ( [link] ): “The sociality that is encouraged by the diet tends to spill over into all aspects of life. So it is that hornbills are fruit eaters and also, as we will see in Chapter 7, are outstandingly social breeders, with various kinds of social arrangements. But also among hornbills we see an interesting twistiwhere the innate sociality has in turn become adapted to a quite different kind of feeding. For among the biggest of all hornbills, and in various ways distinct from the rest, are the two species of ground-hornbills from Africa. Ground-hornbills are not mere fruit eaters: they are formidable predators. The beak is like an icepick. They can hack their way into a tortoise. The Northern species is among the biggest of all avian predators. The ancestors of ground-hornbills were presumably fruit eaters, and that, perhaps, is how they first evolved their sociality. Now, as predators, they hunt in packs. Typically they chase some hapless creature like a hare into a bush and then some act as beaters while others lie in wait and deliver the coup de grace. The packs are usually family groups. They can be seen as strategic predators like wolves or perhaps as problem families, terrorizing the neighborhood.”
Albertonykus's avatar
Heh, that actually sounds more like what I'd expect. Good to know either way.
SpongeBobFossilPants's avatar
But I miss theropodan Guaibasaurus, ceratosaurian Berberosaurus and carnosaurian Marshosaurus (although Carrano et al. 2012 imply there's still hope for the second one). What say you?
Albertonykus's avatar
Guaibasaurus is more interesting as a sauropodomorph anyway... =p
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