Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Dino Friday Repost: Dinosauroids!

This is the second repost of a "Dino Friday" post from my old general topics blog Gentleman's Choice. It appeared almost a year ago. It appears as it did then, with minor revisions to reflect the strict editorial standards of LITC.

I love my dinosaurs, but stuff like this is just kind of embarrassing:



But I suppose I appreciate the sentiment. I've always liked the spunky little theropod known as Troodon formosis. When I cracked open my old DK Dinosaur Visual Dictionary back in the day, the reconstructed Troodon with its big, lantern-like eyes grabbed my attention right away. As it turned out, the model was created by a paleontologist named Dale Russell with the help of model maker Ronald Séguin. Russell also worked with Séguin in realizing a bit of "evolutionary fanfic" known as the dinosauroid thought experiment. It has since had a significant impact on how dinosaurs are perceived in popular culture.

Troodon was found to have the largest brain-to-body-mass ratio in all of dinosauria. This led to speculation about its possible IQ: while it was likely about as smart as a possum, it is the source of Michael Crichton and Steven Spielberg's chimp-like Velociraptor.

Russell's wild conjecture was that maybe, just maybe, if dinosaurs hadn't gone extinct, Troodon or one of its close relatives may have been the progenitors of a line of increasingly intelligent dinosaurs, leading to a human-like dinosaur he called the dinosauroid:

This is really fanciful stuff, and Russell's logic has been pretty roundly criticized by other paleontologists, which seems entirely justified to me. While plenty of bodily features have evolved independently in unrelated species (such as the wings of insects and birds or the club-like tails of ankylosaurs and glyptodonts), it's a huge stretch to imagine the bird-like body of troodontids arriving at a bipedal, human-like form.

But while it has little scientific value, the thought experiment has certainly influenced popular ideas of dinosaurs, from the Jurassic Park raptors to UFO folks who have latched on to it as an example of the feasibility of the insidious "reptoid" form of alien.

Much more in-depth information and analysis on the dinosauroid thought experiment can be found at Darren Naish's old TetZoo location. And Troodon was in the news this week in reports about a Canadian dig site which appears to show that Troodons used a duckbill nesting site as a Cretaceous Golden Corral, though presumably the baby duckbills weren't doused in gallons and gallons of butter.

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