All my awesome followers! How many of you would be seriously interested if I were to produce (probably self-published) a kids’ book about feathered dinosaurs? It’s an idea I’ve been kicking around for a while now, and I was thinking of maybe starting some preliminary work on it in-between “real” work, but first I wanted to gauge general interest.
The text would feature 12-16 feathered Mesozoic dinosaurs, probably weighted heavily towards dromaeosaurids and troodontids, with a smattering of basal birds and maybe some others. Each dinosaur would be illustrated in watercolor by me, and would be accompanied by a fun but informative poem that describes a bit about the dinosaur, what’s important about it, and what we know from its fossil.
Its intention would be to entertain and educate kids, but it would not be “dumbed down” and would definitely be accessible to adults too!
Any thoughts? Suggestions about what to include, or what to avoid?
Mei was a troodontid found in the Yixian Formation of Liaoning, China. It lived in the Valanginian age of the Late Cretaceous, about 125 million years ago, and is known from a juvenile specimen. This juvenile was about 53 centimeters long and was preserved in amazing detail in a roosting position similar to modern birds, indicating similarities in behavior between non-avian dinosaurs and birds. It was probably buried instantly in volcanic ash and had very large nares. It was featured in the fantastic television series Prehistoric Park (that was cruelly short) when it both attacked a member of the documentary crew and was soffocated by toxic gasses from the volcano.
I’ve been thinking for a while about what might have arisen if the dinosaurs hadn’t gone extinct, and if selective pressures were such that higher intelligence evolved. There have been some popular works on the subject over the years (the classic and extremely human-like “dinosauroids” of Dale Russell, Robert J. Sawyer’s “Quintaglio Ascension” trilogy of sci-fi books, and many other artists working on similar projects); this one is my take on the idea - sentient Oviraptorosaurs.
It seems most other similar projects tend to speculate on elevated cleverness evolving in the Paraves clade, and this makes sense: We know some of the most intelligent extant organisms on Earth (outside of the primates) are birds, especially the crows and ravens, and certain parrots. Some of their closest extinct non-avian dinosaur relatives are the Dromaeosaurids and Troodontids, and these fine animals are popular points of departure for speculative evolutionists. The Maniraptoran clade (of which Dromaeosaurids, Troodontids, modern birds, and Oviraptorosaurs are all a part) has some key attributes that we share: On Earth we have only one data point for human-level intelligence so far, so it seems logical to me to look for other organisms with similar traits when speculating on potential evolution of advanced tool-using intelligence – traits like large brains, high brain to body size ratios, grasping appendages (useful for manipulating the environment), bipedal motion (to keep those grasping appendages unoccupied), living on land (as smart as dolphins are, it would be hard to use fire, smelt metals etc. underwater), and a social structure that puts selective pressure on the ability to out-think and/or cooperate with others of your species.
Personally, I favored the Oviraptorosaurs in part to differentiate my own fiction from the rest. Oviraptorosaurian brain/body ratio may not have been quite as high as that found in the Troodontids, for example, but they do have one additional interesting trait that is similar to our own hominid forebears: probable omnivory. It seems to me that hominid and corvid intelligence may be at least partly linked to social interaction with conspecifics, but also with problem-solving to exploit different food resources. The Dromaeosaurs and Troodontids, it seems, were more likely obligate carnivores and thus would have less evolutionary pressure to develop interesting techniques for obtaining food. That, and I think Oviraptorosaurs look really cool.
This is a work of fiction; I was thinking of potentially writing and illustrating a book on the subject. If you’d like to see more, leave a comment!
Please do not use or reproduce without permission.
No joke, Velociraptor’s great-great-grand-uncle has been discovered in Wyoming! The earliest known troodontid, he was last seen wandering from his nursing home in the late Jurassic (that - that one was a joke). Seriously though, the scientists working to name* and describe him could really use your help. They are very close to their funding goal, but also very nearly out of time. Please, if you can, donate here: Link
@zelkwin thanks for alerting me to the cause! * ”Grunkle-raptor” is not the animal’s official name, but would be a great one IMO :)
This troodontid was found in the Kaiparowits Formation in Utah, and lived in the Campanian age of the Late Cretaceous, about 75.95 million years ago. It is known from limited remains including rear limbs, pelvis, vertebrae and a forelimb bone. It would have been roughly two meters long and a little less than one meter high. It is the first troodontid known from its region, and it lived near the western shore of the Interior Seaway of North America at the time. Specifically it spent its time in an ancient floodplain with large channels and peat swamps, ponds and lakes, and highlands bordering on all sides. It lived in a wet and humid climate alongside a diverse number of organisms. It lived with dromaeosaurids, Ornithomimus, Albertosaurus, Teratophoneus, ankylosaurids, Parasaurolophus, Gryposaurus, Utahceratops, Nasutoceratops, Kosmoceratops, and Hagryphus. However, it probably spent most of its time feeding on the small mammals and lizards also living in the region at the time.
Who was the earliest bird: Archaeopteryx, as has long been thought, or Aurornis, a newly-described Chinese paravian? Nature News explores this issue in a new article that features this illustration of these two dinobirds facing off in a conceptual battle for status.
Contra the Nature article, and while the true phylogenetic position of Archaeopteryx is certainly a fascinating issue and deserves resolution, the reality is that it does not matter whether good ol’ Archie was a bird or something very, very similar to a bird. Modern phylogenetics has rendered the distinction logically irrelevant: whether Archaeopteryx is the first “bird” is now an issue of semantics more than one of science. So let’s try to cut back on the uproar over who was truly the earliest bird—there are enough worms to go around.