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Re: Terra Nova: thoughts

But I found the idea of curious and peaceful brontosauruses taking tree branches from a kid unexpectedly cute.

Do you think that in real life, highly intelligent "slashers" would have gotten the kids out of that tank? Small dinosaurs in the cage behind me are looking for who to bite. Tweewoo!

Thomas, if everyone gets into the high level philosophies behind the program the way you do, it just might survive! LOL! Not, I understand one word of what you wrote. Other than about the descriptions of dinosaurs.

I am sure that this list will now have an extended high level discussion of philosophies of science fiction.

I've an idea that the grain would adapt, but if they kill just one brontosaurus they will have enough food for a long time. And scrambled brontosaurus egg would feed teh colony for a week. I wonder what they'll do for calcium, though. Not even much carbonate rock, in that time. Most of it in Texas, anyway, formed during the Cretaceous.


----- Original Message ----- From: "Thomas R. Holtz, Jr." <tholtz@umd.edu>
To: <dinosaur@usc.edu>
Sent: Tuesday, September 27, 2011 9:00 AM
Subject: Terra Nova: thoughts

First, a news article:

Synopsis (superbrief): Colonists from a dystopian mid-22nd Century populated entirely by early 21st century suburban Americans facing environmental catastrophes flee via a rift in time to the early Santonian (85 Ma), where they have to deal with dinosaurs,
intra-colony rivalries, and Steven Speilberg.

My Facebook observations are a) kids love the show and b) those who have been around the block more often find it tedious, poorly
placed, and a poor execution of some halfway decent ideas.

Now, my thoughts:
Plot/setting: "Political refugees and misfits escape via stable oneway timerift to a parallel past" is a combination of science fiction tropes that work fine for plot reasons. Parallel past allows for people to actually act and do things without consequences for the future (Utley's Silurian short story cycle and Stirling's Nantucket series both used this premise). The "political refugees and misfits escape via stable oneway time rift" is the same background of May's Saga of Pliocene Exile, and plenty of good stories (Steele's Coyote colony books) [and, of course, reality!!] have been written about misfits and other refugees as pioneers.

The idea of using the Santonian is a good one: it is largely a "twilight zone" in terms of our paleontological knowledge, which gives greater freedom to the writers. It stands between the pretty well known communities of the Cenomanian and the extraordinarily well known faunas of the Campano-Maastrichtian. If the writers were clever (ah, if only...) they could draw upon both time slices to create late survivors of the Cenomanian faunas and early precursors of the latest K. But more about what they actually did below...

I am not quite certain if they established WHERE on the Earth the colony is (I missed it if they said). This is an issue, because by the Santonian you are getting regionalization of faunas to some degree, and that is going to effect your taxon choice. Or at least,
it SHOULD affect your taxon choice.

The mountainous setting has multiple uses: From the point of view of the audience, it is pretty. From the point of view of characters in the story, it makes sense: running fresh water, and the potential for hydroelectic power. From the point of view of the writers, the fact that montane faunas basically don't wind up as fossils gives them additional leeway in creating taxa.

The critters:
* Brachiosaurus. Umm, Brachiosaurus. Apparently a very late surviving population... And they obviously went back in time prior to the 2000s to find these ones, because they hadn't heard about the repositioning of the fleshy nostrils! (My suspicion: they modded the CGI models from Jurassic Park, and didn't correct this issue). Nice aspect: they make reference to the fact (in our world, possibility) that they occasionally chomped on small animals, too: hat tip to Greg Paul. On the other hand, they referred to
"incisors" on these guys...

* Carnotaurus. A very early population of these... (Redated, Carnotaurus is one of the youngest of the abelisaurids. But it was once considered Aptian/Albian. Maybe this is a population in transit due to the redating...) Utterly failed to get the forearms right on them (again!): so far Dinosaur Revolution and Planet Dinosaur's models are the only correct abelisaurid arms in CG. While we do not have Carnotaurus' metatarsi, they gave it feet that are probably far too long and slender based on other abelisaurids.

They could have said "brachiosaur" and "abelisaur" and it would have been fine: we might get both of these 85 Ma. Specifying the genus name (okay, I know that etymologically that phrase is inaccurate!) sets them up to be wrong. If I were a consultant on this (which I'm not), I would encourage them not to use particular known genera.

Also, this is where knowledge of where on Earth they are is important. If North America or mainland Asia, the presence of an abelisaurid is just contradictory to our current information on dinosaurian biogeography! Any other continent, not so bad.

* Acceraptor. An invented dinosaur, nicknamed "the slasher". Inventing new dinosaurs isn't a bad idea, so long as the invention is reasonable, given that new species are named at a rate of about 1/week or more. This thing, though: it looks something like a toothed oviraptorosaur (or an oviraptorosaur-crested dromaeosaur) with Jurassic Park "bunny hands" syndrome and a slashing tail weapon. If it were me, I'd have suggested some sort of megaraptoran neovenatorid. (And jeez, if you want a pack hunting predator,
you are smack dab in the middle of Eudromaeosauria's stratigraphic range!)

* Giant centipedes. Yes, you read me right: giant freaking scolopendrid centipedes. Maybe 2 m long. What is next: giant man-eating plants with mobile tentacles?!? Shades of bad "lost world" movies of yore...

However, food may be an issue: most grains use the C4 metabolic pathway, and these plants do poorly in higher CO2 conditions. They
will probably have to mostly live off the land.

SPECULATIONS (you are warned): There are mysterious writing (equations) left on rocks that the colony leader has forbidden people to see. Given these, and some other comments, I suspect that the secret mission of the colony is actually to set up a reverse time rift to ship back natural resources to their home timeline. Or maybe not, we'll see.

Thomas R. Holtz, Jr.
Email: tholtz@umd.edu Phone: 301-405-4084
Office: Centreville 1216
Senior Lecturer, Vertebrate Paleontology
Dept. of Geology, University of Maryland
Fax: 301-314-9661