strange behaviors

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  • Richard Conniff writes about behavior, in humans and other animals, on two, four, six, and eight legs, plus the occasional slither.

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Posts Tagged ‘dinosaur’

Fantastic Bloody Pigeon! (Or Hitchcock Nightmare)

Posted by Richard Conniff on March 5, 2017

Bloody pigeon (Photo: Wellcome Images/Scott Echols)

Bloody pigeon (Photo: Wellcome Images/Scott Echols)

The Wellcome Trust presents an annual award for scientific imagery, and two of this year’s winners (above and below) caught my eye for the new ways in which they reveal the natural world.  Think of the one above as new insight into the cardiovascular system of living (and extinct) dinosaurs.  Or just a bloody pigeon.

Here’s how The Guardian‘s Nicola Davis describes it:

Open-beaked against a jet-black background, the image of a bird leaps forth, a frenzy of red-and-white squirming lines hinting at its form. It looks like a still from a Hitchcockian nightmare. “It looks so cross, sort of squawking at you,” says Catherine Draycott, head of Wellcome Images.

In fact, the eerie shot is the product of

Read the rest of this entry »

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Everybody’s Favorite Dinosaur Says: “Hey, Baby, I’m Back.”

Posted by Richard Conniff on April 7, 2015

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Here’s a quick quiz. Choose the one that doesn’t belong:

A) Tyrannosaurus

B) Stegosaurus

C) Brontosaurus

D) Triceratops

Yes, I know, you’re way too smart for this. You chose “C” because you remember that everybody’s favorite dinosaur, that 16-ton vegetarian with the long neck and the whip-like tail, is really named Apatosaurus. Scientists have long since declared that Brontosaurus was a taxonomic error, and doesn’t technically exist.

In fact, it’s been 112 years since a paleontologist named Elmer Riggs first pointed out that Brontosaurus, described by Yale’s O.C. Marsh in 1879, was an awful lot like Apatosaurus, which Marsh himself had described just two years previously. Marsh thought the two species were different because one had more vertebrae than the other in the sacral region, at the base of the spine. But Riggs pointed out that the sacral vertebrae in four-limbed species, including humans, normally fuse as an individual matures. Marsh’s two specimens were thus supposedly no more than older and younger individuals of the same species.

That is, until this morning. In a paper published Tuesday in the journal PeerJ, a team of paleontologists has declared that Brontosaurus is back, baby, and better than ever. They argue that Brontosaurus is different enough Read the rest of this entry »

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DARWIN’S REVENGE: DISPLACING RICHARD OWEN

Posted by Richard Conniff on October 5, 2008

If you read my piece on the discovery of the gorilla (below), you will know I have been having fun trashing the nineteenth-century paleontologist Richard Owen. This is a related piece that I wrote for the Atlantic Monthly’s web site.

One does not normally see 2000 lb. statues in marble and bronze playing musical chairs. But that’s what happened recently at the Natural History Museum in London, with Charles Darwin and his main adversary as the only players.

The museum was designed in the Victorian era as “a temple to nature,” and it feels like a cathedral. There’s a main hall that looks a lot like a nave, and at the far end, there’s a statue on a stairway landing below a stained glass window, in a position that might otherwise be occupied by Jesus Christ. For 90 years, until this past May, a bronze image of Richard Owen, the great nineteenth-century anatomist who founded the museum, stood in this place of honor.

Owen is remembered nowadays mainly for having coined the term dinosaur (meaning “terrible lizard”), but he also wrote important papers on animals from the moa and the pearly nautilus to the ground sloth. When Charles Darwin returned from his round-the-world travels on H.M.S. Beagle, he handed over the sloth and other fossils for Owen to analyze.

But the two men later fell out over Darwin’s evolutionary theories. Owen was a social climber and a schemer. If T. H. Huxley was “Darwin’s bulldog,” then Owen was the snarling lapdog of the establishment opposition. And he waged a long losing battle against the Darwinian revolution. Darwin, who seldom had an unkind word for anyone, once remarked, “The Londoners say he is mad with envy because my book is so talked about. It is painful to be hated in the intense degree with which Owen hates me.”

Owen soon had further grounds for stoking his hatred: Read the rest of this entry »

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