What Do Ardi, Raptorex, and Komodo Dragons Have in Common?

This article was originally posted at Science 2.0 on 9 October 2009. It provides some background for the follow-up article corREXion? that has suddenly become relevant again.

Paleontology doesn’t always get the respect it deserves (or desires), in the molecular, genomic, evolutionary, quantitative genetic circles we run in around here. Blame the DNA. Sequence comparisons have proven incomparable in establishing phylogenetic relationships between organisms.

Paleontology can also irritate us by creating false controversy, which irritates the heck out of us. The fossil record is a sparse and biased record of life. Supposed “missing links” are often an artifact of this fact. Supposed discrepancies between sequence divergence times and divergence in form from the fossil record often reflect the fact that sequence divergence necessarily precedes any differences in form significant enough to be noticeable in the fossil record.

This means that biologists tend to relegate paleontology (fairly or not) into the roles of adding colorful detail. Therefore, it is particularly exciting when there are not one, not two, but three recently reported fossils that force the biological community to re-evaluate evolutionary hypotheses. Continue reading “What Do Ardi, Raptorex, and Komodo Dragons Have in Common?”

Predator X: Too Bad Ass for Peer-Review?

Predator X (Atlantic Productions publicity illustration)

Suffice it to say that earning the title Predator X should require a resume loaded with specific instances of statistically significant bad assery[1]. Big fangs or some kung fu lessons might get you Predator L or, even, E, but we are talking about Predator Freaking X here. By law, Predator X must be one bad mother. . .

Shut your mouth!
I’m talking ’bout Predator X.
Then we can dig it.

Predator X[2] was a pliosaur, a group of prehistoric marine reptiles (within the order plesiosauria) characterized by large body size, long heads, short necks, conical teeth, four flippers, and eating tasty things that had the misfortune to be smaller than them. Basically, pliosaurs were sea monsters, and sea monsters are already pretty bad ass.

Artist impression of the pliosaur Liopleurodon (by Nobu Tamura - CC 3.0)

Originally discovered in 2006, Predator X was the subject of a History channel documentary in 2009. Predator X was the subject of all manner of articles with the notable exception of the academic, peer-reviewed variety[3]. Hmmm, the publicize before peer-review strategy sounds familiar to me.

What makes Predator X deserve all this attention? According to the team from the University of Oslo Natural History Museum Predator X stands out even in a clade of sea monsters:

Its anatomy, physiology and hunting strategy all point to it being the ultimate predator – the most dangerous creature to patrol the Earth’s oceans – quoted in New Scientist (link to original press release no longer available[4])

Wait, did I just say University of Oslo Natural History Museum? What does that remind me of? Continue reading “Predator X: Too Bad Ass for Peer-Review?”