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Re: another dumb question: Terror Birds are not dinosaurs?
In 6/29/07, Paula Goodman <email@example.com> wrote:
With all this talk about birds-are-dinosaurs, I'm curious to know what,
if anything, distinguishes the bird status of Phorusrhacidae from that
of the recently discovered Gigantoraptor, for example. Why do we call
one a big bird fossil, and the other a dinosaur fossil?
The word "bird" is a bit vague. Most researchers would probably not
extend it to _Gigantoraptor_, although that may not speak for
everyone. It's not as close to avians (crown group) as, e.g.,
dromaeosaurids are, and those are usually not thought of as "birds".
Tradition is a big part of the reason we don't often refer to
phorusrhacids as dinosaur fossils. But, apart from that, I think it
has to do with levels of specificity and the groups most people are
familiar with. For example, _Homo floresiensis_ wasn't generally
referred to as "a new species of mammal" because we have a more
specific group we can refer to, one that everyone is familiar with:
When communicating about a fossil taxon to lay people, I think it's
generally best to use the most specific grouping that is widely known.
Given that, it makes sense to refer to _Gigantoraptor_ as a dinosaur
and _Phorusrhacus_ (sp?) as a bird. It's certainly not wrong to say
that _Phorusrhacus_ is a dinosaur, but you communicate more to by
saying that it's a bird. (It's also not wrong to say that it's a
neoavian neognath, but then you've lost the lay audience....)