The Day The Dinosaurs Died

You’ve probably read about how a massive asteroid strike ended the era of the dinosaurs and caused their ultimate mass extinction.  The geological evidence indicates that, 66 million years ago, the asteroid hit on the Yucatan peninsula of modern Mexico and produced massive earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tidal waves, and forest fires.  The strike threw up a dense plume of dust and debris that turned the world dark and wiped out 99 percent of life on Earth.  Thanks to that asteroid strike, the Cretaceous period ended with a bang and the way was clear for mammals — and human beings — to take the dinosaurs’ place at the top of the food chain.

sk-2017_04_article_main_mobileWhat was it like on the day, 66 million years ago, when the asteroid struck the Earth with such terrible force?  Robert DePalma, a doctoral student at the University of Kansas, has found compelling evidence of what happened on that momentous day, and this week he published his findings in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  In 2012, looking at a site called Tanis, in the Hell Creek geological formation in North Dakota, DePalma found layers of perfectly preserved animals and fish fossils at the precise boundary between the Cretaceous period and the Tertiary period that followed it — the very day when the asteroid struck the Yucatan.

The geological evidence shows that the asteroid strike created a magnitude 10 or 11 earthquake that generated seismic waves that reached out thousands of miles.  In prehistoric North Dakota, which like much of the North American continent was covered by an inland sea, the seismic waves produced a water surge that threw fish onto shores to suffocate — producing the layers of fish and animals that DePalma found.  At the same time, molten material was hurled into the atmosphere.  In the geological formation, DePalma found bone, teeth, and hatchling remains of many dinosaur groups, including an intact dinosaur egg complete with embryo — indicating that the dinosaurs survived that fateful day, although their ultimate day of reckoning was coming.

In an article in the New Yorker, DePalma describes his find as “like finding the Holy Grail clutched in the bony fingers of Jimmy Hoffa, sitting on top of the Lost Ark.”  Thanks to him, we now know a lot more about the day that the ground buckled and snapped, the waters surged, the skies were lit with fire, and the world changed forever.

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Discovering The Biggest Dinosaur Ever

In Argentina, paleontologists recently uncovered the fossilized bones of what they believe to be the largest dinosaur species ever.  The discovery of the remains of the colossal creature once again pushes the envelope of estimates of just how large land animals could possibly become.

The new species, which has not yet been named, was a colossal beast.  Its thigh bone alone is longer than an adult human being, and altogether it was estimated to measure 65 feet in height and 140 feet in length. The animal was a plant-eater and a type of sauropod — dinosaurs with long necks and long tails that those of us who grew up in the ’60s learned to call a “brontosaurus,” the “thunder lizard” species of dinosaur that now is believed to have never actually existed –– except as the quarry vehicle used by Fred Flintstone and served in rib form at the Bedrock drive-in.   (That’s science for you.)

The newly discovered dinosaur is thought to have weighed 77 tons, as much as 14 fully grown African elephants.  In short, the largest land animals of the modern world, which seem so large and ponderous to us, would have been dwarfed by this gigantic dinosaur.  Imagine standing near a creature that was as tall as a seven-story building and could shake the ground with each step!  It gives an entirely new plausibility to Godzilla movies.

Richard And The “Chicken From Hell”

Scientists have discovered and properly named a new dinosaur species. Its technical name is Anzu wyliei, but it’s been commonly described on the news as the “chicken from hell.”

Of course, it’s not like any chicken we’ll ever see — fortunately. This creature weighed 500 pounds, had a crested skull, long beak, and powerful claws, and lived during the late Cretaceous period at the same time that Tyrannosaurus Rex roamed the planet. Like all of the late dinosaurs, the “chicken from hell” went extinct after a meteorite struck the Earth and changed the climate in which dinosaurs had thrived.

Richard’s connection with the “chicken from hell” is that paleontologists from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh played an integral role in the discovery of Anzu wyliei. Richard’s interesting Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story about their discovery is available here.

The Awesome Power Of Dinosaur Flatulence

Any regular reader knows that the Webner House blog rigidly adheres to the highest standards of propriety and refinement.  Occasionally, however, exceptions must be made when a rippingly good fart story surfaces.

Consider the recent scholarly article in the academic journal Current Biology, in which the authors attempted to determine the magnitude and climatological effect of dinosaur farts.  The authors, from universities in England and Scotland, calculated that dinosaurs produced an eye-watering 520 million tons of gas annually — enough, they believe, to help cause the warm climate that existed 150 million years ago, because the dinosaur blasts consisted largely of methane, one of the greenhouse gases.  Curiously, the article makes no effort to determine the effect of the dinosaurs’ colossal flatulence on odor conditions during the Mesozoic Era or helps to explain why the Tyrannosaurus Rex was always so ill-tempered.

The dinosaurs’ astonishing gas production is especially impressive when you consider that they cut the cheese without the assistance of White Castle hamburgers, nachos, or beer.  In any event, the findings in the study also lend credence to the theory that dinosaurs belonged to fraternities, were possessed of a sophomoric sense of humor, and first coined the comment “he who smelt it, dealt it.”

A Distant Ancestor

They’ve discovered a fossil in China of what appears to be an ancestor of the Tyrannosaurus Rex — except this creature lived 60 million years earlier and was 90 times smaller. It features the same massive, dagger-toothed skull, the same small “arms,” and the same apparently acute sense of smell. Even though it was smaller than a T Rex, you still wouldn’t want to meet it in a dark alley — it weighed about 150 pounds and looks like it could rips a normal-sized human to shreds in short order.

The BBC story on the find is interesting, although their depiction of what the dinosaur looked like it a bit unnerving. Tufted with a brown mane, it looks like a crazed horse on steroids.

Dinoskin

This article reports on the fascinating recent discovery of a dinosaur fossil with preserved soft tissue sufficient to demonstrate the structure of dinosaur skin.  The  finding gives experts a bit more information about how dinosaurs really looked.   This kind of story reflects the wonderful inquisitiveness of scientists.  We obviously don’t need to know exactly how dinosaurs looked, but it sure would be interesting to discover more data about that topic. 

I confess to being a bit sorry that, as the article indicates, the skin structure evidence cuts against the recent theory that dinosaurs had feathers.  My mental image of feathered dinosaurs had been the “Tyrannasaurus Rex chasing the jeep” scene from Jurassic Park — except that that terrifying T Rex was festooned with brightly colored feathers, like some ancient Aztec chieftain.