N is for North Pole

Cryolophosaurus hanging out in the Transantarctic. Photo on Reddit.

Yes, you read that correctly. Dinosaurs in the snow.

There were dinosaurs in the Arctic and in the Antarctic. There have been fossil finds in the north, across Siberia and most recently in Alaska, which have changed the conventional notions about where dinosaurs might have lived. If you’ve seen some of those National Geographic or David Attenborough shows about life on earth, you know that today, life exists everywhere–deepest ocean, darkest and coldest parts of land. Dinosaurs were spread across the globe 90 million years ago, so why wouldn’t they also have adapted to the deepest, darkest, coldest?

Mostly seas in 94 MA. Photo from Global Geology.

Where in the World is the World?

To be fair, the Arctic and Antarctic today were not that way 150 million years ago. First of all, the continents were not the same at all. When the dinosaurs first emerged and adapted to range far and wide, most of the land mass was still connected together, vestiges of a super-mass called Pangaea, which gradually started to drift apart.

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M is for Mary Anning

Mary Anning statue in Bristol, bristol.acl.uk

She sells seashells by the seashore,
The shells she sells are seashells, I’m sure.
So if she sells seashells on the seashore,
Then I’m sure she sells seashore shells. 

Mary did sell seashells. She was well-known for doing it at the time, though only locally, and never credited by the male scientists who took her work and used it to gain their own notoriety. They say the poem is about her, although it probably was not. Yet she did, indeed, sell seashells, found seashells, drew seashells, theorized about the age of seashells, and drew plesiosaurs. By the Lyme Regis seashore.

She also invented paleontology.

Current Lyme Regis map, southampton.ac.uk.

Mary, Mary

No, that’s another rhyme…. although her garden grows with cockle shells, so maybe… And it may be that she did not exactly invent paleontology, but paleontology didn’t exist as a scientific discipline until she collected hundreds of fossils and starting drawing, mounting, and discussing them with others. And after that it did.

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L is for Living Relatives

Dinosaurs could see in color. The EPB-living relative theory says so. Picture by Sergey Krasovskiy.

EPB. Remember those letters when you think of dinosaurs. They’re hard words–extant phylogenetic bracket–which I will define shortly. But they are like a magic wand for paleontologists and paleobiologists. EPB lets scientists looking at fossil bones, those 100-million-year old rocks, tell what kind of muscles they had, whether their blood vessels were strong, and whether they could see in color. Scientists can tell all sorts of things about the soft tissues inside those bones because they can compare them to the closest Living Relative. (I was going to include this under letter E, but I had to talk about extinction, so I’m slipping it in here under L. By inference, which is how EPB works.)

EPB: Big Words, Brilliant Idea

Let’s break this acronym down. Extant is the opposite of extinct, so that refers to something living, in particular a species or group of animals (remember C for Clade). Phylogenetic is a mouthful. Phylo means group and genetic refers to a group. Bracket also means group.

extant (living) + phylogenetic (group evolutionary tree) + bracket (group) = EPB

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