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Re: Book Review: Poinars': "What Bugged the Dinosaurs? Insects, Disease, and Death in the Cretaceous"
Well written article. The questions that it raises for
How do they know that the bug was bit by a dinosaur?
How do they know it's dinosaur blood they found?
--- Patricia Kane-Vanni <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
> Book Review: Thinking small when thinking of
> extinction, Reviewed by Fred
> For The Inquirer
> "What Bugged the Dinosaurs? Insects, Disease, and
> Death in the Cretaceous"
> By George Poinar Jr. & Roberta Poinar
> Princeton. 266 pp. 61 color illustrations. $29.95
> One hundred million years ago, a female sand fly
> settled on a sauropod for
> what turned out to be her final blood meal.
> Something startled the dinosaur,
> and the insect's dining was interrupted. She escaped
> the thrashing beast
> only to become trapped in the sticky resinous sap of
> an araucarian tree.
> Her "straining, desperate movements attracted the
> attention of a small
> predator patrolling the bark, who nipped open a
> minuscule hole in the end of
> her abdomen, deftly pulled out the reproductive
> system, and devoured the
> protein-rich eggs. Some of the gut contents of the
> entrapped insect spilled
> out onto the fresh resin as life ebbed away. She lay
> on one side in a drop
> of spilled blood, disemboweled, head and mouthparts
> clearly visible, wings
> outstretched. . . . An additional resin flow
> entombed the small female fly"
> in what we now call Burmese amber.
> Of the many large and small dramas of Cretaceous
> life that Oregon State
> University zoology professor George Poinar Jr. and
> retired research
> scientist Roberta Poinar vividly recount in What
> Bugged the Dinosaurs?, this
> one is the most significant. For when the Poinars
> studied that remarkably
> well-preserved ancient event in their laboratory,
> they discovered that the
> dinosaur blood was infected with a pathogenic
> Had the fly survived to bite another beast, it might
> well have passed the
> disease along, much as insect-borne diseases are
> spread from animal to
> animal today. That is not the only way insects
> bugged dinosaurs. They often
> competed for the same food or were irritating
> biters, stingers, and
> Of course, they had their beneficial traits as well.
> They were pollinators
> of plants that fed herbivorous dinosaurs. They were
> food for carnivorous
> dinosaurs or the animals on which they fed. They
> were the "Sanitary
> Engineers of the Cretaceous" (title of Chapter 9),
> playing a major role in
> recycling the nutrients in dung and the vital
> chemicals in the bodies of
> dead animals and plants.
> In natural history museums, plodding, hulking
> herbivorous dinosaurs and
> their fierce carnivorous cousins command the
> public's attention. Few
> visitors pay attention to the smaller reptiles,
> amphibians, and mammals of
> the Mesozoic Age (that includes the Triassic,
> Jurassic, and Cretaceous
> Even fewer consider the plants and insects that made
> up the largest part of
> the ecosystem. Almost no one thinks about the
> disease-causing bacteria,
> parasites, and symbionts whose interaction with
> dinosaurs probably drove
> their mutual evolution faster than changing climate
> and geography.
> What Bugged the Dinosaurs? is the Poinars' attempt
> to remedy those
> oversights. They assert that it is impossible to
> describe life in the
> Cretaceous Period without paying particular
> attention to insects.
> The book deftly guides readers through the science
> essential to that
> understanding. Their prose puts readers on the scene
> when fossils form in
> rocks and amber, when plate tectonics reshape the
> arrangement of continents,
> when species and ecologies evolve, and when
> individual creatures thrive,
> compete, ail, suffer, and die.
> Chapter by chapter, the authors introduce a wide
> range of insect species
> that bite, swarm, irritate, and even take up
> residence within and on the
> dinosaurs that readers know so well. They draw their
> stories from the fossil
> record, especially the amber of their expertise,
> comparing Cretaceous
> insects with their present-day descendents.
> After discovering the ancient ecology, readers
> follow the authors into the
> laboratory where they analyze delicate evidence in
> the form of magnificent
> color images. Finally it is time to interpret
> findings and draw conclusions.
> While acknowledging that an asteroid impact brought
> a catastrophic end to
> the Cretaceous and the dinosaurs (at least the
> non-avian ones), the Poinars
> question whether the great reptiles may have already
> been in serious
> Had disease, parasitic infestation, and competition
> with insects already set
> them on a path toward extinction? That is not a new
> question, but it remains
> an important one in paleontology. It is the kind of
> question that continues
> to inspire scientists and readers alike.
> The Poinars' answer to that question is yes, but
> they make sure their
> readers know that the conclusion is less important
> than the open issues that
> Scientists relish unexpected discoveries like the
> unfortunate insect in the
> Poinars' amber sample. Readers who love paleontology
> will feel the same way
> about this remarkable book, savoring its fascinating
> trove of questions and
> Physicist Fred Bortz is the author of many books for
> young readers,
> including "Collision Course! Cosmic Impacts and Life
> on Earth."
> Patricia Kane-Vanni,
> email@example.com <mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org> or
> "Keep away from people who try to belittle your
> ambitions. Small people
> always do that, but really great ones make you feel
> that you too, can become
> great." - Mark Twain
> Posted on Mon, Jan. 28, 2008
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