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Dinosaur noses and stuff (long)
- A friend of mine sent this to me. Since I was unawares of this
publication, and felt this one in particular was funny and had some
bearing on this list (even timely), I thought I'd send it on with
Mickey's approval, of course. Other than that, I have no connection
with the author, whose e-mail and website appear in the text at the
> Subject: Dinosaurs and Noses!
> by Michael Jay Tucker
> History Five: Dinosaurs One
> Hello Everyone,
> As you can clearly see, we are back in my little lecture hall here at
> email@example.com University ... or MTWSC U. for short.
> Long term readers will, of course, know that this means we're going to have
> yet another column in my ongoing series on the history and pre-history of
> the world.
> GEEZ, BOSS, DO YOU SUPPOSE WE'LL EVER GET UP TO PEOPLE?
> Oh, hello, BERNIE ... didn't see you there. Everyone, you know BERNIE,
> don't you? He's an intelligent software agent who lives on my hard disk.
> Say hello to everyone, BERNIE.
> HELLO TO EVERYONE, BERNIE.
> Ohhh ... Anyway, last week, we got up to protomammals ...
> UH... BOSS?
> Yes, BERNIE?
> THAT GORGONOLAZA THING? THE ONE YOU HAD IN HERE LAST TIME? THE ONE WITH ALL
> THE TEETH?
> Oh, you mean Gorgonspian. The late Permian predator with the multiple saber
> YEAH ... Y-Y-YOU'RE NOT G-G-G-GOING BRING HIM BACK, ARE YOU?
> Not to worry. I've got him penned up downstairs in my Id along with my
> repressed sexual fantasies.
> OH, WELL, HE OUGHT TO FIT RIGHT IN THERE.
> This week, we're going finally talk about your favorites.
> I KNOW, BOSS! I KNOW! WE'RE GONNA DO DINOSAURS, RIGHT?
> You got it. But first, let's go to our reading list.
> Anyone who sets out to suggest even a limited reading list on dinosaurs and
> other prehistoric life is rushing in where angels fear to tap dance. You
> always leave out someone's favorite volume and they make no bones about
> telling you so. But, I'm not too bright, so I'll do it anyway.
> Today's list is long, so have patience. It includes:
> *THE DINOSAUR HERESIES, Robert T. Bakker, PH.D., William Morrow and Co.
> Inc., New York, 1986.
> *PREDATORY DINOSAURS OF THE WORLD, Gregory S. Paul, Simon and Schuster, New
> York, 1988.
> *THE ILLUSTRATED ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PTEROSAURS, Dr. Peter Wellnhofer, Crescent
> Books, New York, 1991
> *JURASSIC PARK, Michael Crichton, Ballantine Books, New York, 1990.
> *"The Last of the Nasties?", a review of Crichton's LOST WORLD by R.C.
> Lewontin, THE NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS, Feb. 29, 1996, p. 20.
> *" The Metabolic Status of Some Late Cretaceous Dinosaurs" by John A.
> Ruben, Willem J. Hillenius, Nicholas R. Geist, Andrew Leitch, Terry D.
> Jones, Philip J. Currie, John R. Horner, George Espe III, in SCIENCE
> MAGAZINE, Volume 273, Number 5279, Issue of 30 August 1996, pp. 1204-1207.
> *And, lastly, as comic relief, "Dinosaurs Have Their Day In The Sun,"
> SUNEXPERT magazine, February 1993, p. 73, and "More Dinosaurs (er,
> protomammals)", SUNEXPERT magazine, November 1993, p. 6. Both articles by
> ... ahem ... Michael Jay Tucker.
> Okay, who are they and what are they about?
> I already wrote about Bakker last time. He's the celebrity paleontologist
> who advises film makers and writes best sellers about the lives of
> happy-go-lucky vercilorapters. No kidding. Check out his new novel, RAPTER
> RED, which is told from the POV of a dinosaur. (There ought to be a joke in
> there about "Fangs for the memories," but I don't think I'll bother.)
> Anyway, I include Bakker and his HERESIES, even though I wrote about them
> last week, because the latter is so useful and the former is important. It
> was, of course, Bakker and a number of other Young Turks who, in the late
> 1960s and early 1970s, advanced the extremely radical notion that dinosaurs
> were, in fact, not true reptiles at all, but rather sophisticated,
> warm-blooded creatures who never went extinct at all. Instead, they dwell
> among us still -- as birds.
> At the time, in the '60s and '70s, these weren't just HERESIES ... they
> were seemed violations of sheer common sense. Yet, the arguments were
> =46or example: consider predator/prey ratios. Warm blooded predators have
> very high energy requirements. They have to eat a lot just to stay alive.
> Thus, among mammals and birds, meat-eating lions and tigers and eagles (oh
> my) have much, much smaller populations than veggie-loving cows and
> chickens and rabbits.
> This isn't true for cold blooded predators. Since a good alligator may eat
> only every few weeks or two (whether he's hungry or not), their population
> can be almost as high as the things upon which they feed.
> (As an interesting aside, this means that in environments where there's not
> a lot food to be had -- like on islands -- the predator roles tend to go to
> reptiles. That's why you've got komodo dragons wolfing down goats (and the
> odd tourist) in certain Pacific garden spots.
> If T.Rex and Co. were, then, like alligators, we ought to find a lot of
> 'em, relatively speaking. But, guess what? We don't. Carnosaur fossils are
> rather rare ... just about as rare, in fact, as are the fossils of large
> mammalian carnivores.
> That's a difficult one to top.
> And speaking of meat eaters, let's move on to Gregory Paul's PREDATORY
> DINOSAURS ...
> Paul is both a great fan of Bakker and "a freelance dinosaurologist" -- or
> so it says on the flyleaf. He's also a marvelously talented illustrator.
> PREDATORY DINOSAURS includes some of the most dramatic pen-and-ink
> renderings of dinosaurs that I've ever seen.
> His writing, however, is less sure of itself, and he has produced here a
> very strange book. I remember seeing a review of it some years ago (I don't
> recall where) that said it fell between two stools -- it wasn't sure if it
> was a popular book for laymen or a sophisticated text for professionals,
> and so managed to satisfy no one.
> And, frankly, there's something to the critique. Parts of the book seem a
> little under-gunned and embarrassingly introductory. Then, all of sudden,
> you go whizzing off into complex discussions of Latinate bone structures
> that would mystify a full professor mainlining smart drugs.
> Still, it can be a fun read, and if you ever need a complete catalog on
> almost every known predatory dinosaur (up to the publishing date, 1988),
> this is the book for you.
> Besides, I'm fond of the book because it once firmly established my status
> as resident geek at a former employer, UNIXWORLD MAGAZINE. I was the East
> Coast Editor and now and then had to fly to Mt. View, CA (where it was
> HQed) for editorial meetings.
> During one such meeting, I got into a conversation with one of my (many)
> bosses. He was a sleek and sophisticated chap, the type who speaks well
> about wine and later goes on to become Editor and Chief of something or
> In any case, I was reading PREDATORY DINOSAURS at the time, and terribly
> excited by it. Something launched me into a description of the book ... the
> wealth of information it contained, the drawings, the lovely names, the
> teeth and claws ...
> He looked at with the sort of expression you reserve for people who have
> psychotic episodes in public. "Yes," he said, after a bit. "Well."
> I had been, you see, so uncool as to exhibit an enthusiasm.
> Moving on ...
> PTEROSAURS is a wonderful work on dinosaur's winged cousins. The pterosaurs
> have been re-evaluated along with the earthbound kin, and are now
> considered far more bird-like than the nasty, web-fingered monsters of once
> popular imagining.
> The book suffers from some of the same problems that Paul's book does. It,
> too, isn't sure if it's for scholars or the rest of us. But it makes up for
> it in the amount of information it offers ... the author, Wellnhofer, is
> Head Curator at the Bavarian State Collection of Paleontology and
> Historical Geology ... and in the very great beauty of its illustrations.
> John Sibbick, the book's artist, provides plate after plate of fabulous,
> full color paintings. If Audubon had been a sentient dinosaur at the end of
> the Cretaceous, I think he'd have done this book.
> Not quite finally, I include two additional works, not for their
> scholarship (though that is considerable) but because they are evidence of
> the remarkable passions that dinosaurs can still kindle. Crichton's
> JURASSIC PARK is, of course, the thriller which everyone on earth has
> probably read, and which inspired the movie of the same name.
> "The Last of the Nasties?", is a review of PARK's sequel LOST WORLD.
> Lewontin, the author, is no small potatoes. He is the Alexander Agassiz
> Professor of Zoology and Professor of Biology at Harvard University. And he
> goes after Crichton with a battle-ax. He's not fond of the PARK/WORLD's
> writing, characters, or science. It isn't true that Lewontin calls for
> every copy of every book by Crichton should be recalled as a threat to
> public mental health, but he gets awfully close ...
> And, frankly, I'm at an utter loss to understand his passion. But, I can't
> explain the reaction that many people had to PARK either. I remember
> reading the book ... and I liked it. I thought it was good. Not Hemingway,
> but who wants Hemingway as a steady diet? Not even Hemingway did. I mean,
> tofu and reduced calorie kale are all very well ... but now and then, you
> just gotta have a pizza, you know?
> Besides, I'm sort of defensive of Crichton. I don't know him. I've never
> met him, and probably never will. But my wife did, once. She was a
> secretary at Harvard Medical School at the time he was working there ...
> back in the days when he was known as a doctor and not a media mogul. She
> reports that he was rather nice. One of the few people in the place, she
> says, who didn't have a God Complex.
> Oh, as a last minute addition to the reading list ...
> I include two of my own articles -- the SunExpert pieces. I don't do so,
> though, to in any way suggest I'm in the same league as writers like
> Bakker, Crichton, and Co. Rather, I have ... well ... an extremely odd
> purpose. And I'll get to it in a minute.
> Part of that purpose, though, is contained in that paper, " The Metabolic
> Status" by Ruben et al.
> NOW BOSS ... HUH? ... NOW? WE'RE GOING TO DO DINOSAURS, NOW?
> Calm down, BERNIE. Yes, we're finally going to get to 'em.
> Okay, as you'll recall from last time, protomammals ... mammal-like
> reptiles of which at least some may have been at least somewhat blooded ...
> ran the earth. Then, the titanic and mysterious Permian extinction comes
> along and wipes out most of life on the planet. The Protos regroup and
> manage a come-back, but this time they've got competition in the form of
> Crocodile-like creatures -- the "Crimson Crocs," -- who somehow get the
> upper hand. Slowly, but surely, the Protos get pushed further and further
> out of the picture ... until they're nothing but a few, small, rodent-like
> creatures living in the brush. And, need we add, there they become true
> mammals ... fully warm blooded, furred, and all the rest.
> Okay. At almost precisely the same time, the first true dinosaur we know
> about appears -- lagosuchus, to be precise, or the "Rabbitcroc." It was a
> small, bipedal hunter. I think of it as sort of like a road runner ...
> except, of course, in the cartoons, the Road Runner is always being chased
> by poor Wile E. Coyote. With Lagosuchus it seems to have been the other way
> 'round. It appears to have eaten mammals, and been more successful at it
> than Wile E. ever dreamed of being. Perhaps it was because Acme had not yet
> then incorporated.
> Anyway, keep that in mind. Keep in that mind the fact that lagosuchus was
> EATING our direct ancestors. Keep in mind the fact that the mammals of the
> age were scuffling around in the underbrush at the best of times, and never
> got further than that. They were underachievers on a scale that would put
> Bart Simpson himself to shame. Got that? Good. It's going to be important,
> in a minute.
> Okay, so lagosuchus is strikingly successful ... and its kith and kin are
> even more so. Dinosaurs quickly expand and fill every available ecological
> niche. The are EVERYWHERE. We find their remains in almost every corner of
> the earth ... including areas that were, at the time, icy cold. Places near
> the poles, you see. In fact, Bakker and the other dinosaurophiles cite that
> fact. If they had been cold blooded, how could they have survived and even
> thrived there ... in the dark and the cold of the arctic nights? How many
> polar crocodiles have you seen lately, eh?
> The only places where they don't utterly sweep aside everything was the sky
> and the sea. We know, oddly enough, of no flying dinosaurs. The pterosaurs
> ... it seems ... weren't true dinosaurs. They were cousins, perhaps a VERY
> close cousin, but not proper dinosaurs.
> =46or one thing, they had hair. At least some of them were heavily furred.
> We've actually found the imprint of their thermal covering in fossils.
> The other place that dinosaurs didn't get a foot-hold, or rather, fin-hold,
> was the ocean. It seems that the big air-breathing sea creatures of the age
> ... like the swan-necked Plesiosar and the Ichthyosaur ... were actually
> "marine lizards." (No jokes, please, about iguanas in uniform.)
> But, sea and sky aside, everywhere else they reigned supreme.
> Why am I making such a big deal of that? Because it takes us into a serious
> mystery. Remember we said that the new dinosaur dogma is that they were
> warm blooded? Well, here's an excellent reason to believe that. If they had
> been cold blooded, then they would have been at a horrible disadvantage in
> any contest they'd have had with the early mammals ... who, remember, came
> along at almost precisely the same time, and who were unquestionably warm
> If that had been the case, then the mammals would have almost certainly
> been able to expand upward, displace dinosaurs from many niches, and who
> can say? Perhaps even harry them into extinction ... just as even the
> mighty komodo dragon is vulnerable to packs of dogs, which are neither as
> big nor as well armed as it is.
> Yet, in fact, nothing like that happened. Mammals were insignificant and
> stayed that way. In the age of T.Rex, they were roadkill at the best of
> times. And they were only able to make a place for themselves when the
> Cretaceious Extinction snuffed the dinos en toto.
> Okay, you say, again so what? So dinosaurs were warm blooded and
> sophisticated creatures whose extinction was a tragic accident of fate.
> Case proven. Why am I bothering to state it again and again?
> Because ... alas ... that's where I personally get into the picture.
> In February 1993, I was the Executive Editor of SunExpert magazine, a fine
> little publication dealing with computers from Sun Microsystems. I happened
> to do an article on some paleontologists and a few of their gifted friends
> who were using medical CAT scan equipment to look inside fossils. This was
> particularly useful in peeking inside fossil dinosaur eggs.
> It was a fun story to research and a few months later, in November, I
> decided to do another, similar story. By accident, I happened to track
> down Timothy Rowe, who was at that time associate curator of vertebrate
> paleontology at the Texas Research Museum in Austin. He was X-Raying
> fossils of protomammals -- specifically, the dog-sized Thrinaxodon, which
> lived about 240 million years ago.
> He found a couple of fascinating things. For one thing, Thrinaxodon seems
> to have been relatively big brained for its age. It was no genius, but it
> seems to have been as bright as many much later true mammals.
> But the real kicker was its nose. Or rather sinuses.
> Modern mammals and birds have large nasal passages because they have high
> speed metabolisms. We need our oxygen. They've also got baffles that warm
> or cool air before it gets to the lungs. That's because we are trying to
> maintain a constant temperature and don't want to chill down every time we
> take a breath. So, we direct air through a maze of passages to bring it to
> the right temp. before it gets inside us.
> Lizards don't do that. Their temperature is always changing anyway, so why
> Well, guess what? Thrinaxodon has a lizard-like nose. No baffles. Its got
> straight line pipes from nostrils to lungs. Ergo, there's very good
> evidence this particular protomammal wasn't warm blooded.
> Okay, now skip forward to 1996. Paleontologists are starting to apply the
> same test to the "warm blooded" dinosaur. In particular, take at look at
> that article on "the Metabolic Status" in SCIENCE magazine.
> You wanna guess what they found? Come on. Take a shot.
> You got it. No baffles. No heat exchangers.
> So you see the problem. If the dinosaurs WERE warm blooded, then how come
> they didn't get hypothermia every time they took a breath? But if they
> WEREN'T, then how do you explain their predator prey ratios? Their presence
> in arctic areas? The fact that true mammals didn't crowd them aside at the
> end of the Triassic?
> Man. It is a major brain cramp.
> So it seems to me that we've got two choices. Either: a) warmed bloodiness
> isn't nearly as important as we thought it was, and Alligators would be
> fully capable of taking over the planet if they ever got half a chance and
> half a day, or b) we're not reading the data properly and/or dinosaurs had
> some method of dealing with heat-exchange that we just didn't know about.
> And either way, the whole thing is beyond me.
> SO THAT'S IT FOR DINOSAURS BOSS?
> Well, I may touch on their extinction next time and .... Whoa! BERNIE, what
> the hell are you wearing?
> LIKE IT, BOSS? I HAD IT MADE SPECIAL.
> That's the biggest fake nose, false mustache, and pair of plastic googgily
> eyes I've ever seen.
> THANKS, BOSS. THEY HAD TO SHAVE SIX ST. BERNARDS AND A RHINO TO GET THE
> ENOUGH HAIR FOR THE MUSTACHE.
> But, BERNIE, why ...?
> SIMPLE, BOSS. YOU KNOW YOU SAID THE REAL PUZZLE WAS HOW DID DINOSAURS WARM
> UP THEIR AIR BEFORE IT GOT TO THEIR LUNGS?
> Ah ... yeah.
> WELL, I FIGURE THAT THEY JUST HAD SOME BIOLOGICAL STRUCTURE THAT DIDN'T
> =46OSSILIZE ... AND SO WE DON'T KNOW ABOUT IT.
> You mean ... noses?
> UH-HUH. I FIGURE THEY ALL HAD THESE HUGE JIMMY DURANTE SNOZZES THE SIZE OF
> A BUICK.
> My God. It would look like a convention of reptilian Bob Hope imitators.
> EXACTLY, BOSS. NOW YOU'RE GETTING THE SPIRIT.
> You know, BERNIE. You've got the makings of an idea there. A stupid idea.
> But an idea.
> WHY THANKS, BOSS. THAT'S THE NICEST THING YOU'VE EVER SAID TO ME.
> Don't mention it.
> So, folks, until next time ...
> Onward and upward.
> =A9Copyright 1996 by Michael Jay Tucker
> explosive-cargo is a column of humor and commentary by Michael Jay Tucker
> (i.e., moi). It is freely published to its readers by mail-list on a (more
> or less) weekly basis. To subscribe, send email reading:
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> material may be reproduced for personal use so long as proper attribution
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> If you have Web access, visit EXPLOSIVE CARGO, the Webzine, at
> And, If you should wish to reach me directly, my email address is
> - --mj