Deep Pterosaur Breaths

I cannot begin tell you how excited my children will be to learn that scientists think* giant pterosaurs may have breathed in a similar way to crocodilians when they get home from school today. Read Brian Switek’s explanation of the newest research at National Geographic Phenomena.

*Geist, N. R., Hillenius, W. J., Frey, E., Jones, T. D. and Elgin, R. A. (2014), Breathing in a box: Constraints on lung ventilation in giant pterosaurs. Anat Rec, 297: 2233–2253. doi: 10.1002/ar.22839

Ow, My Head

Unlike the widespread reporting of the credulous media, the human skull is not specifically evolved to take a punch from other humans. Brian Switek explains the many problems with this hypothesis at National Geographic’s Phenomena. I admit that I thought, throughout my rugby career, that my head, and only my head, had evolved to be punched. It turns out that the way I played rugby had evolved to make people want to punch me in the head1. I was a particularly annoying person to play rugby against2.

Fortunately, human skulls are pretty robust in some key ways. It is just very unlikely that they got that way due to the evolutionary pressure of hominids punching each other in the noodle. One of the key problems with the punching hypothesis is that it is pure conjecture (and unreasonable conjecture, at that) without supporting experimental evidence. What would it take to really test the punching hypothesis?

WARNING: This post may contain a Game of Thrones spoiler “below the fold”. 

Continue reading “Ow, My Head”

Science Caturday: Say Ohai to Nanuqsaurus

nanuq

It’s always exciting when scientists discover a new dinosaur, especially if it’s a cute little one.  As Brian Switek reported in National Geographic’s Phenomena this week, paleontologists Anthony Fiorillo and Ronald Tykoski have named a smallish tyrannosaur that once lived in the Arctic.

The scientists gave the dino the name Nanuqsaurus hoglundi –combining the Iñupiaq word for polar bear and a philanthropist named Forrest Hoglund.  The incomplete skeleton unearthed in northern Alaska indicates that, although Nanuqsaurus was likely fairly closely related to Tyrannosaurus rex, it was much smaller, around 25 feet in length compared to 40 for a T. rex.

Perhaps the most astonishing aspect of the recent discovery: photographic evidence (above) indicates that some traits of Nanuqsaurus may have somehow veered from their branch of the phylogenetic tree and taken up residence in cats, rather than birds. We await further study.

Photo: Cheezburger.com

Liek Dinos? Brian Switek’s ossim book, My Beloved Brontosaurus, is just out in paperback. You can haz.

Science Caturday: Dinosaur Edition

funny-pictures-cat-is-dinosaur

Today we have a special Science Caturday to celebrate the publication of My Beloved Brontosaurus, a book by dinosaur expert, cat servant and friend of the Finch & Pea Brian Switek, aka @laelaps.

The Wall Street Journal says that you should “read Mr. Switek’s book to rekindle your love of all things dinosaur: the cheesy movies, the action figures, the many happy hours spent wandering through imaginary Jurassic jungles. But more than that, read it to remind yourself that the dinosaurs’ story is our story and that, as Mr. Switek writes, ‘extinction is the ultimate fate of all species. Nothing so majestically encapsulates these simple, powerful truths of nature quite like a dinosaur.’” We concur!

Brian will be appearing in several cities in the next few weeks to talk about the book – you can catch him this coming Monday, April 29, at Politics & Prose in Washington, DC. Some other upcoming “Brontotour” stops are listed here. If he’s not coming to your town, Brian is always happy to chat about his work on twitter.

In the meantime, enjoy these dinokittehs.

extinct

praying

all photos via Cheezburger.com