Thursday, March 28, 2013

Actual living dinosaurs (for real!)

Nothing grinds my gears more than when people call an animal a living dinosaur when it isn't actually a living dinosaur. Thanks to a little thing called science, we actually do have living dinosaurs today, for real, no jokes. You just have to realize that something doesn't need to be all toothy or scary (or scaly) in order to be a dinosaur.

The foot of a red-legged seriema. Notice the claw on the second toe... Kinda reminds you of something, doesn't it?
If you truly want a glimpse back in time, just check out big birds hunting small animals. It's a rip-roaring good time if you like birds, and if you're a fan of their prey, then it's horribly gruesome and you probably shouldn't watch these videos. These videos do contain some graphic scenes, so if you're not the type who enjoys seeing disemboweled snakes or fish or voles, then you should probably just wait for the next post, which won't be so violent.

First up, we have the southern ground-hornbill, one of my all-time favorite birds. These huge, black birds have bright red wattles on their faced, huge pincer beaks, and, you've got to admit, beautiful eyes. They spend their days stalking the African savannahs in search of small prey, which they make short work of with their powerful bills. They recall an age when dromaeosaurs were doing the exact same thing, without the grass, across the Cretaceous globe.

This next video is really, really, cool, and I say that from a completely biased point of view. I freaking love herons, especially the great blue. They're common around my house, and every summer I make sure to keep my eye out for them on the local lake. While they are perfectly adapted for patient fishing, they are no less proficient on land, as you can see in this video. I love the way it hunts on land, the way it so fluidly goes from walking to crouched into an attack position. It launches its bill forward like a lance; even if it's a slender bird, I would not want to be faced with that weapon. I'm sure such graceful, stealthy hunting styles were common to see in ancient Hell Creek, where Tyrannosaurus and Quetzalcoatlus (okay, not a dinosaur, but still) were apex predators.

How could I close with anything but this guy? That's right... It's everyone's favorite not-pelican, the shoebill! Now, I still have an entire post about these guys that I need to publish still, but I figured I would give you all a nice little tidbit so you can all see how the bird looks in its element. You can really see in this video that, even though it lacks the spearlike build of a heron, it is no less efficient at subduing its prey. Its relatively short, powerful neck makes quick work of a lungfish in this video. The nail-like projection at the end of its bill really comes in handy when grappling with such slimy prey. I'm sure many theropods utilized this full-bodied launch to subdue similar prey on land, throwing themselves are their prey and grappling it with tooth and claw.

We have to realize that dinosaurs were not like Godzilla or anything from Jurassic Park. Just because our favorite dinosaurs are becoming increasingly covered in feathers, or displaying parenting behavior, or not being savage monsters does not mean that they were any less intimidating or powerful.

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