I was poking around and seeing how much of that cladogram I got right, and I ran into my old friend Panphagia. No one bothered to tell me, but he's a Guaibasaurid now. Really. Plus, Guaibasaurids are actually Sauropodomorphs now. Go figure. So, I got that part wrong, but then I didn't know until now, so I can't really count it out if it wasn't part of my memory to begin with.
So it got me thinking about some of the really awesome shit we've found in the past few years. I started seriously researching dinosaurs since the last few years of high school, around 2004-2005, and since then the newest discoveries have gotten straight to me, because I figured out where I should actually be going to get news about these sort of things. In the past, I never heard about Sinosauropteryx when they first found it, but I knew all about Giganotosaurus (which I called Gigantosaurus back then). So, this is a list of the stuff we've found out since I started paying attention, and therefore the times when the actual time of the discovery was just as memorable as the discovery itself.
Really, I'm waxing nostalgic for about six years ago, is whats happening here.
Why: This one is pretty damn recent, but it already feels like a million years have passed since I was ripping my hair out trying to get a straight answer about what the hell Alvarezsaurs are. Turns out they're the most basal clade of maniraptorans. Cool, huh? Makes sense to me. So I sighed and moved on. Not to undermine it's importance, of course, it's just that the mystery is solved, and the whole point of resting easy is so you can get to the actual resting. So, I'm pretty over this now. But dang, thank god for this motherfucker. Am I right?
Why: Like I said, Panphagia is a Guaibasaurid now, and Guaibasaurids are actually basal Sauropodomorphs, but instead of dimishing Panphagia's importance, it only makes it more interesting. I'll be honest, I don't really care about non-theropods. I mean, I try to pretend that they matter, but deep inside I know I'm not convincing anyone. They're all just so boring and ugly compared to even a Majungasaurus. Which is why I became so enamored with Panphagia. It was, by all accounts, a Sauropodomorph that wished it was a theropod. And I had it bad, I was fucking obsessed with this thing for months, I couldn't get it out of my head. It was like a bad love song, and everywhere I looked I saw Panphagia's head on a crow's body. Nevermind that he was probably a generalist, he had the ABILITY to be a carnivore, and I find it hard to believe he didn't take advantage of that when there were no Coelophysids around. I also think it's just genuinely cool looking, although you wouldn't know that to see some of the chupacabra-like mangy drawings around the internet (thanks to that thing Tianyulong changed, what was it called? Oh yeah, everything.).
And now with the Guaibasaurid thing? That's beyond cool. The reason this conclusion was reached, Chromogisaurus, who is just another Guaibasaurid, is also beyond cool. I mean, he doesn't make the list, but just for letting me say "just another Guaibasaurid" like I'm some super badass motherfucker from the future where we already have all this bullshit figured out, and you can buy designer pet Guaibasaurid clones from the Wal-Mart on your way to work, and we know about the plumage of every dinosaur that's ever lived, is pretty cool.
I mean, let's face it, I may be the only person on the planet besides the two jack offs that named this clade that actually knows what the fuck a "Guaibasaurid" is, and it just so happens to include my second favorite Sauropodomorph of all time (the first comes later). Plus, they are quite clearly killers, even more clearly now than they were before, only now instead of being "basal Saurischian" killers, they are full on Sauropodomorph killers.
Learn more about Guaibasaurids at your local library. Just kidding. You're not going to learn anything there.
Why: Of course you already know how I feel about this. No matter what a few idiots say, though, Tawa is still the first Theropod. This also marks the first time a paleontologist gives a story to the papers that involves Herrerasaurs as one of the reasons why it qualifies as headline news. And then the wierd part is that those papers agreed, and started talking about how cool it is that there is finally some sort of idea of how they are related to Theropods. The how part was wrong, but whatever. Same as Panphagia, really, but this one is a theropod, so it's much more important.
Why: The fingers. Actually, I'll be honest, I don't give a damn about the fingers, but I do remember feeling like it was truly the future because of them. For those who don't know what I'm talking about, Limusaurus should be famous among lunatics and religious people as being the final nail in the coffin for their precious "dinosaurs are extinct" nonsense. The thing was the only "loose end" (it wasn't actually a loose end) in tying up (tee hee) the whole bird thing was the fingers on the hands. In living dinosaurs, developing embryos can be observed, and we can tell that the three fingers on a chicken (and the other living dinosaurs that still have arms) were digits II, III, and IV. We can't see fossils develop, so some had assumed without any evidence whatsoever that the remaining fingers on non-bird theropods (which means nothing, by the way) were I, II, and III. Of course, they were wrong, and no one payed attention to them because these are the sorts of things that crazy people say. If this sounds familiar, it should, because most things people think about extinct clades of dinosaurs are the complete opposite of true, and there is no evidence to support them, but it still takes decades of piling evidence to convince people that the truth is true, and made up bullshit is not. Example: people actually used to think that dinosaurs were cold blooded. No, I'm not lying, this really did happen. Like a snake. No, really. I'm not kidding. Like a fucking snake.
I actually still have a book or two that actually mention the "finger thing." In each, it is mentioned briefly and then dismissed because it just sounds so fucking stupid, and there is no evidence that non-bird dinosaurs (again, means nothing) had digits I, II, and III instead of II, III, and IV. One of these is an ornithology book, and those people are as stupid as a retarded rock from a country with a poor education system who is made fun of by the whole school for being so stupid. Also, Sibley & Alqhuist (or however you spell those fucking stupid names), who are even stupider than that, and single handedly set back dinosaur cladistics several decades with their stupid Ciconiiform antics. So, to reiterate, stupid.
So thats it. Birds (whatever the hell thats supposed to mean) are dinosaurs, which isn't news, and even the normally sensationalistic and ignorant journalists were finding it hard to care about Limusaurus.
But Limusaurus is remarkable for far more than just the stupid finger thing. First of all, he's a herbivore. Not a big deal yet. He's from the late Jurassic. "Okay," you think, "but we know plenty seed-eaters and pre-seed-eater-like paravians, and we know ornithomimosaurs had to have been present then, so whats this all about then?" He's a Ceratosaur. Yeah. The ones with the wiggly tails? Limusaurus is a beaked, toothless herbivore with a diminished I and V digit and a big ol' wiggly tail. You'd be forgiven for thinking it WAS an ornithomimosaur until you saw that wiggly tail. Whats more, he is one of the most basal Ceratosaurs ever found, meaning that hebivorous Ceratosaurs are actually pretty far branching. So, what I'm really trying to say is that everything we knew about Ceratosaurs was wrong, which is pretty damn cool.
Why: Easily the oldest one on this list, so old, in fact, that all this controversy skipped by me entirely. I became aware of Microraptor in 2003-2004 after all the whatever had died down and it was time to really pay attention to what made Microraptor so special: four wings. So cool. Microraptor changed how we understand the plumage of basal paravians forever, and it is pretty well recieved at this point. I remember when it was still new, I would get all pissy all the time because Microraptor had changed everything, and I wasn't seeing that change happen, and it confused and angered me. This was simultaneously my first experience with both the speed of paleontology and the density of everyone else. It was extremely obvious, back in the summer of '04, that four wings are a paravian, and not a Microraptor trait. I knew this, and yet I would still see these wierd-looking mangy monsters on tv that were supposed to be raptors. I kept checking the "info" button, but it assured me that the reconstruction was done that year.
My favorite story about Microraptor though has got to be the time I saw a documentary about how it flew. It was from shortly after I graduated high school, and I was watching alot of history channel. These guys actually made a Microraptor puppet and placed it inside a wind tunnel to see how aerodynamic the old school "sprawling" leg shape actually was. Not only was this move physically impossible without the dinosaur dislocating both of it's legs, but it simply didn't give enough lift. The shape they discoved that did, of course, is that wonderful biplane shape that we are all so familiar with. This resonated with me because it was around 2005 or 2006, which, taken with my other estimates, means it had been around two or three years since Microraptor became known to me and the rest of the world that don't care about hoaxes, and at most six years since it was discovered period. This dinosaur started as a hoax, withing three of four years revolutionized the way we will think about paraves from now on, and a few years later we had a complete picture of how it actually flew which was the same time it's signifigance started to sink in with the general public. This, to me, perfectly illustrates the time ratios between the different knowledge bases.
Before Microraptor became Microraptor, there was a show called The Future is Wild that showed various possible futures in a manner similar to Dougal Dixon's After Man. Actually, it was kind of an unofficial sequel, and Dougal even wrote the book. In a possible biosphere from 100 million years in the future, we meet a creature called the Great Blue Windrunner, a large flying dinosaur that lives up on the Great Plateau, a mountain range created by Australia's impact with mainland Asia. GBW's are related to cranes, have feathers that reflect UV rays, and have four wings. They fly using the outdated "sprawling" technique. So, in the time that Microraptor was discovered, four wings was considered a futuristic trait of the "I know it sounds crazy, but it IS one possible future" variety. In other words, way out there but just enough to look plausible. It was great because we hit the nail right on the head, but in the wrong direction.
Lastly, I want to say that I don't know or care what the controversy about Microraptor was. It isn't important. What is important is that Microraptor changed everything in a way that I feel safe saying that in this post-Tianyulong environment.
Why: Sinosauropteryx was first found in 1996, which I first learned from this cool shirt I saw Phil Currie wearing this one time, but this was in a time when I wasn't paying very close attention to dinosaurs. Rather, Godzilla had just died for the first time in my life, and I was trying to figure out how to deal with that. I knew about what would become Zilla, and that whole thing, but thats another story all together. Dave, Dyzio, Sino, and the early oviraptorosaurs being discovered at the time totally went over my head. So, when I really started getting into dinosaurs, all of this had already been figured out, and it had been decided that Dyzio was featherless, and the origin of feathers is actually at the base of Coelurosaurs, which would mean Tyrannosaurs had feathers, but we didn't get a confirmation on that until 2004. Of course, like I will have inscribed on my fucking tombstone, Tianyulong changed everything. But thats for later.
What I'm of course talking about is the discovery of what color Sinosauropteryx is. Turns out it was orange with white stripes on the tail and a white underbelly. Do I need to elaborate on why this is so earth-shatteringly cool? I thought not.
I should also say that Dave being poisonous (maybe) and Dyzio being redeemed because Tianyulong fucking changed everything are close runner-ups, but those don't fit terribly well with the rest of the list. Dyzio still blows my mind though, because they found him the year after Sino, but he was a Dilophosaurus, which was too much for anyone at the time to handle. Way to kick some ass, Dyzio.
So we can do that now. We can get pigments (or whatever the hell they did) from particularly good feather impressions. We are so close to knowing everything it's almost scary.
4. Tune in next time, if I remember, because the next one is another Sauropodomorph! Can YOU guess what it could be? The excitement is almost too much...
I'm just tired of writing for now.