What’s That Baby T-Rex Doing in My Birdcage?

Guanlong wucaii

Guanlong wucaii

UPDATE!   Originally published on December 12, 2012, this was AntiquityNOW’s first blog post! The dinosaur/avian connection is back in the news today with the announcement that Australia will be the first country to publicly display specimens of Guanlong wucaii, a relative of Tyrannosaurus rex that helped confirm the link between dinosaurs and birds. The Guanlong wucaii is the T-Rex’s oldest relative living around 90 million years before its gigantic relative. Unlike the more famous T-Rex, the Guanlong wucaii much more closely resembled our modern day birds as its body was covered in feather-like structures. Stephen Wroe, associate professor at University of New England and a palaeontologist, said, “It might be hard to imagine how Tyrannosaurus, with its huge size and famously tiny arms, could be related to birds. But Guanlong demonstrates earlier relatives of Tyrannosaurus were much more avian – more lightly built and with longer forelimbs.”[1]

So, enjoy the post below, and if you’re going to be in Australia soon don’t miss the Tyrannosaurs- Meet the Family exhibit at the Australian Museum in Sydney running from November 23, 2013 to July 27, 2014.

**************

Image credit left: Copyright © 2005 David Monniaux Image credit right: Peter Tan on Flickr

Image credit left: Copyright © 2005 David Monniaux
Image credit right: Peter Tan on Flickr

You may not think your beloved family parakeet resembles a giant, meat-eating reptile, but according to the study entitled “Birds have paedomorphic dinosaur skulls” published in the Nature journal, the two actually have a lot in common.[2] Modern birds retain the physical characteristics of baby dinosaurs. Specifically, the skulls of modern birds and juvenile dinosaurs are remarkably similar.

The researchers have discovered that the birds we see flitting and flying around our planet today are actually living Theropod dinosaurs, a carnivorous group that included the Velociraptor and Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Skulls of three types of archosaur—alligator, primitive dinosaur, and early bird. The left column represents juveniles and the right column represents adults. (Credit: Image courtesy of The University of Texas at Austin)

Skulls of three types of archosaur—alligator, primitive dinosaur, and early bird. The left column represents juveniles and the right column represents adults. (Credit: Image courtesy of The University of Texas at Austin)

According to the report, researchers scanned dozens of skulls ranging from modern to approximately 250 million years old and discovered that “the evolution of birds is the result of a drastic change in how dinosaurs developed”.[3]  While many dinosaurs took years to reach sexual maturity, birds sped up this process which allowed them to keep maintain the look of a baby dino.

“What is interesting about this research is the way it illustrates evolution as a developmental phenomenon,” Harvard University’s Arkhat Abzhanov, associate professor of organismic and evolutionary biology was quoted as saying in a press release. “By changing the developmental biology in early species, nature has produced the modern bird –- an entirely new creature –- and one that, with approximately 10,000 species, is today the most successful group of land vertebrates on the planet.”

Discoveries like these highlight the need to protect these fossilized remains that are hiding just under the dirt all over our planet. Without the skulls to scan, this exciting new information may never have come to light.

So what can you do if you find a T-Rex bone in your backyard? How do you make sure trained professionals dig up the rest of the possible remains and document all of the important scientific information? First, get excited! You have just uncovered an amazing part of our history. Second, call your local university or state geological office (both numbers can be found online).

And next time you see a pigeon in the park, count yourself lucky his relatives aren’t nearby.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s