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Re: Matt Wedel on the perils of doing documentaries
Yes, the repetition is very painful. One thing I have learned doing
interviews and consulting for these productions is that each episode
only sets out to make three or four points, on average. Try as we
might, it is very difficult to get them to include more material, and
it's even harder to keep the crew from making what is included from
transforming into something sensationalized.
As it turns out, though, the Quetz launch is not one of those
sensational bits - that comes directly from my work on pterosaur
launch, and they used my calculations for timing, muscle content, and
overall launch kinematic (they made the leap a bit more dramatic, but
I did get a lot of input and it wasn't bad - best one on tv to date.
The flapping amplitude after launch is too large, and the animal needs
insulative covering, but it isn't half bad). While we don't have the
muscles to check anaerobic content, it turns out that there is a
pretty tight scaling curve for anaerobic power percentage in flight
muscles across all living flying animals - from dragonflies to bats
and birds. Marden worked this out in the 90's (see Marden, 1994).
So, I calculated the likely range of potential fast twitch fiber
content from that known relationship, and the CotD folks used the
upper end, of course, but they didn't overstep - 80% is within the
confidence interval for the curve calculation.
I've had a few people look at me funny over the single-leap launch,
but the structural mechanics support it, as do the muscle
reconstructions. It may seem odd and incredible, but keep in mind
that adding hops does not really help much, and large pterosaurs are
better built to leap than to run (plus running launch, in the extended
version, is mostly related to water takeoff in living birds). It's
also worth considering that while Quetz was huge for a flyer, it's not
really that big for a leaper - 400 lbs puts it in the same ballpark as
large antelope, mid-sized tigers, and a handful of other animals that
can spring several times body length. Quetz doesn't have limbs that
can highly flex like those of a tiger, of course - the limbs of a
pterosaur are much stiffer than that - but it did have an awful lot of
its body mass tied up in limb power, and the limbs are very long. In
the end, you get an animal that can combination push and pole vault
pretty effectively. Animal takeoff is greatly misunderstood,
especially with regards to the effects of size.
In terms of prey for Quetz, there are multiple lines of evidence
indicating that it was eating something small, numerous, and easy to
digest. Some kind of small animal therefore fits the bill
(literally), and work by Witton and Naish suggests that much of the
prey was captured on the ground. Therefore, baby dinosaurs were
probably on the menu. Lots of other things probably were, too, such
as squamates, small crocs, other pterosaurs (if grounded), mammals of
various types, etc.
Assistant Professor of Biology
Woodland Road, Pittsburgh PA 15232
Buhl Hall, Room 226A
On Dec 15, 2009, at 1:22 PM, Andrew Simpson wrote:
I was so exited when I stumbled upon Clash of the Dinosaurs. I
watched Perfect Predators. My sis was there to hear me counter much
of the science. There was one or two things that were interesting
enough that I didn't know for sure one way or the other and wanted
to ask ya'll on the list about said but those questions are
forgotten. Something about T-Rex I had never heard before. Oh and
I'm not sure I believe a Quetzalcoatlus could leap into the air so
easily. Did it really have super fast twitch muscles? Even if it had
I think it would have needed some hops to get going. Even the bad
CGI seems to suggest this.
And why do we think it was a baby eater? It might have been but have
we found babies in it's tummy?
In the end I had to turn off the series 5 minutes into the 2nd
episode for the reasons stated. Bad science, repetitive narration
and the pain of watching the same 5 clips shown over and over and
over and over and over and over and over and over and over was too
much for me. When a dinosaur fiend like myself can't watch you're
dinosaur show then you get an epic FAIL as your grade.
----- Original Message ----
From: "Thomas R. Holtz, Jr." <email@example.com>
To: firstname.lastname@example.org; VRTPALEO@usc.edu
Sent: Tue, December 15, 2009 6:30:14 AM
Subject: Matt Wedel on the perils of doing documentaries
Thomas R. Holtz, Jr.
Email: email@example.com Phone: 301-405-4084
Office: Centreville 1216
Senior Lecturer, Vertebrate Paleontology
Dept. of Geology, University of Maryland
Faculty Director, Earth, Life & Time Program, College Park Scholars
Faculty Director, Science & Global Change Program, College Park
Mailing Address: Thomas R. Holtz, Jr.
Department of Geology
Building 237, Room 1117
University of Maryland
College Park, MD 20742 USA