Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Bird-Breathing Beast

Paleontologists working in Argentina, home of the world’s finest beef and political musicals, have discovered the fossils of a large meat-eating dinosaur that had a breathing system very similar to modern birds. Aerosteon riocoloradensis was about 33 feet long and walked on two legs. Like many other dinosaurs, he was also most likely feathered for insulation (and high fashion). But instead of breathing with expanding and contracting lungs, he had air sacs which acted like a bellows to force air into his stiff lungs in a birdlike system that doesn’t seem intelligently designed so much as completely absurd. Scientists believe these sacs may have evolved as a way to manage body heat and were later co-opted for a breathing. This bellows system also may have helped keep Aerosteon riocoloradensis upright when running after prey. I guess Sam Neil’s Jurassic Park character was right when he said we’d never look at birds the same way again. Which is very similar to how I’ll never look at Steven Spielberg’s career the same way again after the dinosaur-kicking gymkata of The Lost World. More details here.

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