StarCraft® II

I work in paleontology. Ask me things.

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Hello! I'm Ponera. While I'm not starcraft 2 pro, I am a professional paleontologist. I know a great deal about things ranging from paleontology to entomology, comparative anatomy, Osteology, and just about all other branches of biology (involving animals, anyways).

I live in Alberta, Canada, one of the strong holds for dinosaur fossils but also a great area for some mountain/pre dinosaur paleontology. I've done work in the oil sands, jumped out of a helicopter, stared down rutting moose, been stalked by wolves and bears, discovered a new species, bred lizards and insects, dissected various animals, held living nautilus and egyptian mummy hands, worked on massive pipeline projects, excavated dinosaur skulls in restricted areas, fed cuttlefish, caught and preserved freshwater invertebrates, spent time at a marine research station etc etc etc. I've also worked at two world heritage sites: The Burgess Shale and Dinosaur Provincial Park.

I've had some success in other forums sharing my experiences and discussing various aspects of all sorts of vertebrate and invertebrate biology. It's a really neat career path, albeit a really hard one to find work in and it seems popular with small children and women, as well as the average forum goer. I've seen things and learned things most people have never heard about and I am a strong proponent of the spreading of science and information.

I guess to get this started in the right way, I'll throw down some neat links.

http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/08/living-fossil-eel/#more-70704

A plesiomorphic (kinda means primitive) eel. Basically it stopped evolving towards a more eel-like anguid form because there wasn't any pressure or advantage/sexual selection. It's pretty neat looking, if I do say so myself!

http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/14200255

this came as no surprise to me, having worked with placental skinks that are about 99% placental. It's evolved countless times within the squamates, from lizards to snakes, and is super common in the skinks, which have about 1200 species if I recall. Still, as science demands, inference from present data is not data itself. So, finding this data point is rather nice to show that this has been happening a long time within the lineage of snakes and lizards.

Okay people, feel free to discuss things, ask me things or just tell me what you think of it.
Edited by Ponera on 10/5/2011 7:05 PM PDT
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I don't even care if double posting is bad.

I just got a call from a colleague. It looks like I will have to take time off searching for a tetrapod that actually closes a smidgen of Romer's Gap in order to go to the infamous and hotly contested tar sands of Albera later this month.

Some things many hippies don't seem to understand is that despite the occasional flock of ducks landing in tailings ponds, which is bad, the Athabasca river is actually being CLEANED by this process. The McMurray formation basically bleeds oil into the Athabasca river, one of the biggest tributaries to Hudson's Bay. I've seen it, on foot and by air- it's literally an oil reservoir exposed to a major river. I don't understand why people flip out about all this- Yes, the mining process does disrupt the boreal forest. However, nobody waives a red flag at many other open pit mining operations. It's always ironic to me how many petroleum products are used in the open contestation of one of the largest Nother American reservoirs, and quite ignorantly. Many people haven't even BEEN there. I have- I've seen natural and reclaimed land alike, and the whole process. Basically, the process strops muskeg, which is rotting plant matter that smells literally like feces, as well as the acidic topsoil that makes really only super hard fast growing plants or evergreens native to the region grow. They do it in stages, which means the charismatic macrofauna have retreats and he water that re-enters the hydrosphere is actually CLEANER than the water they use to extract the oil.

Problem, hippies?
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Posts: 224
I guess I'll start by asking a few things:

1. What is considered to be the most intelligent reptilian species in nature (in terms of cognitive learning)?

2. Were there many species of dinosaur that had big sail like spinal fins (like the one big super-dinosaur from Jurassic Park 3, I think)? If so, what was the purpose of said fin-thingies (horrible descriptor, I know), and have any fossilizations of them been found?

3. Now that I've brought the movie up, were the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park accurate in terms of their portrayal (size, anatomy, predation, etc.) in your opinion?

4. What is the most bizzare creature you've ever worked with, living or extinct?

Personally, I find it interesting that reptiles have seemingly not evolved hardly at all for millions of years, and yet are still such adept predators that move through many types of terrain effortlessly. Makes the fact that a hunter plunks a big buck from 450 yards look like nothing when you've wrestled it to the ground and squeezed it to death without arms!
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1. Perhaps Troodon, though according to actual relationships, if you include dinosaurs into reptilia proper then you must include birds, as birds are dinosaurs. In that case, I think the award probably goes to the African Grey parrot.

2. There are actually several therapsids that had it as well: Dimetrodon and Edaphosaurus. Spinosaurus actually wasn't a super dinosaur at all. Tyrannosaurus is still the heavyweight and there are rather large ones from South America, Mapusaurus in particular, that takes the length cake. The other sail/extended neural spine dinosaur I can think of would be Ouranosaurus, a duck bill. Since the therapsid examples were highly veinated and probably lacking in internal heat production, I'd say those were used for heat absorption in basking. Ouranosaurus could be some fat storage or bison-like hump, I don't know too much about that species. Spinosaurus might have been a mating thing, or even for heating. In this case, I would strongly suspect it would be for heat dissipation as theropods were almost certainly endothermic. For the record: if we don't have fossilizations of them, we don't know they existed. So all these things are represented in the fossil record.

3. Velociraptor was more like Utahraptor in appearance and size. Velociraptor itself was small with a narrower head. Other than that, things were alright. Spinosaurus was just ridiculous though. I remember in its big fight with T. rex, T. rex had its jaws around the back of the neck of spino. This woulda been game over, as T. rex has insane jaw pressure with teeth to match.

4. Most bizarre? Anything from the Burgess Shale, hands down. As for living, Red Eyed Crocodile Skinks rank pretty far up there, though once I had a gold skink give birth to a 2 headed stillborn. That was crazy.

Reptiles HAVE evolved like crazy. Crocodiles as we know them haven't changed much, for example, but panzercrocs sure have. Terrestrial crocodiles that ran their prey down. There is even an example of a potential herbivorous one, if I recall correctly. Snakes he evolved like crazy as well. In fact, limb reduction in just about all lizards, save for iguanas, agamids and chameleons has been rampant as has placental reproduction. In fact, http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/04/080421-lizard-evolution.html try this on for size. As well, look at Mosasaurs, they are like monitor lizards on steroids. True, turtles haven't done too much but there are some neat examples that look like Bowser. Even amphibians have come a long way, just look at frogs!

:D

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How hard is it to enter the field and what kind of degree do you need? When I was a kid, I always wanted to work in paleontology. I kinda changed my mind a bit but I still eventually ended up completing a Bachelor of general science with focus in biology/chemistry from the University of Ottawa. Now I'm doing a computer degree from AthabascaU... Thought I'd try to work in bioinformatic or something...
Edited by Emperor on 10/9/2011 9:56 PM PDT
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10/09/2011 09:06 PMPosted by Ponera
Dimetrodon


Ah! I (vaguely) remember this name from a book I had as a kid.

10/09/2011 09:06 PMPosted by Ponera
For the record: if we don't have fossilizations of them, we don't know they existed. So all these things are represented in the fossil record.


Interesting! If we have plant fossils I guess it would be possible for these to survive as well.

Spinosaurus was just ridiculous though.


Yeah, I figured they took some creative/artistic liscensing when making this thing. I read once before that the one dino they took the most liberties with was Dilophosaurus. The article said they didn't spit poison, have huge frills that rattled like a snake's rattler, and were on the small side. Is there any record of any dinosaur that may have used venom? Given their massive size and power (on the average I guess) I would think that there would be no biological need for it, unless the species was really small and needed it to fell bigger prey.

10/09/2011 09:06 PMPosted by Ponera
once I had a gold skink give birth to a 2 headed stillborn.


Is this phenomenon limited to reptiles, or is it that other cases go unreported/undocumented? I ask because I've seen a picture of a two-headed turtle several times.


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@ Emperor: I was in the paleontology program at University of Alberta until I realized that botany and structural geology was for idiots. I switched to a double major in basically geology and biology with emphasis on paleontology, entomology and comparative anatomy. It's not that hard to get the degree if you know your !@#$, it's just hard to find work. I'm a consultant, so I get the odd contract here and there. :D

@Radioman: reptiles have two headed babies way more often than mammals. Snakes and turtles are the most notorious for this and also the most likely to have the babies actually survive/not be stillborn. If you want to see some brutal paleo artistic licensing I suggest the new Fox TV show Terra Nova. They basically were like "we only know 10% of the dinosaurs that ever existed" (we can't know what percentage we know, but I would bet it's closer to 1 or 0.1) "because of this we made up some dinosaurs that might have existed and took licenses with ones we know existed"

Why they don't hire someone like me to fact check and make the show tolerable to people with half a brain is absolutely beyond me.


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I was actually very interested to see the premeire epsiode of Terra Nova. They used mostly fake dinos, eh? Well, I suppose it wouldn't be so bad if they consulted to make sure that the fakes were at least plausible. Aside from being fake creatures, what was the largest error they made with the fake dinos? Too many predators? Too big on the average, too small, too aggressive, etc. Is it just me, or is it odd that sci-fi movies/tv shows portray dinosaurs as having an affinity for human flesh? I would think our small, bone filled bodies (relative to our size) would be less appealing if somehow both our species existed together. Would predators be drawn to hunt humans for their lack of natural defenses and inferior senses? I've read that some large predators (including sharks) are actually oppurtunistic feeders. Do these ideas make sense?
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I wouldn't say they used fake dinos, I didn't watch it. I just know that it's something they plan on doing and will most likely abuse as the series goes on. I'd have no way of knowing how aggressive an extinct animal was since ecology of extinct ecosystems is basically the same level as wizardry- it's asinine.

For the record, human flesh is rather basic which means it's bitter. Apparently it's tough, like pork. There are only like 3 species of shark that are really noted for being consistent man eaters, all the others spit us out. They are the bull shark, the tiger shark and the Oceanic white tip, who does get rather desperate at times. Then again, when you can take prey down with no effort, eating around bones isn't a big deal, nor if they can swallow us whole.
Edited by Ponera on 10/10/2011 12:42 AM PDT
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What was your major in college? Is there something that is simply a paleontology major?
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Posts: 224
I've thought of a few more questions:

Are there any fossils that have been dug up of dino skin?
Did any carnivorous dinos have armor like Triceratops or the like?
Are fossilized bones still pretty solid, or are they soft/fragile?
Are there any types of fossils that when found get a "crap, another one of these?" reactions, or is it like striking gold every time?
What's the oldest fossil you've worked with, and what was it?
Is it just me, or do sci-fi movies/tv shows really like the Allosaurus? Is this guy basically the in-between size of the Raptor and T. Rex? Or is it from a different period? (wikipedia says late Jurassic)
EDIT: Just followed one of the links, and linked to a living fossils article. HOLY CRAP MANTIS SHRIMP. That thing is nuts! What's up with the eyes? They creep me out.
Edited by RadioMan on 10/12/2011 8:22 PM PDT
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1. Yes, mummified dinosaurs (Leonardo, for example) and impressions are around. Also, this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tyrannosaurus#Soft_tissue
2. There were no armored theropods, but there are some with horns like Ceratosaurus and Allosaurus.
3. It depends on their preservation and how much erosion has wrecked up the place.
4. Yeah, Hadrosaurs (duck bills) in Dinosaur Provincial Park are EVERYWHERE. So are Centrosaurus bone beds.
5. I've worked with quite a few that are about 510 Million Years old. The Burgess Shale fauna!
6. Allosaurus is older then 'raptors' and Tyrannosaurs. It's also more primitive, morphologically than Pretty much all big carnivorous dinosaurs are charismatic, so that's why we like to see them!

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-AC3cT5586SI/TkZiAVRA2-I/AAAAAAAAA50/k1pcIl0aVUA/s1600/Naish-et-al-2011-Samrukia-whole-theropod-analysis-Aug-2011-600-px-tiny.jpg

This will show you where things sit in relation to each other. Raptors kinda start at Archaeopteryx and include Velociraptor. Tyrannosaurus and Allosaurus are nearer to the top of the diagram (so they are more primitive, with Allosauroids being moreso than Tyrannosauroids).
Edited by Ponera on 10/12/2011 8:37 PM PDT
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This is interesting stuff. I ran into a Dilophasaurus article (okay, it was wikipedia...), and it states that it is one of the least understood therapods. Why is it not understood? Also, where do you stand on the whole T. Rex as carrion feeder vs. apex predator debate I read about in that link? You mentioned a plant fossil, so is that your specialty? Any prehistoric plants that may have been carnivorous?
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Dilophosaurus is one of the oldest theropods and was one of the first super predators, at least as far as dinosaurs are concerned. I don't know much about myself, actually.

T. rex, like any large predator, would probably out muscle anyone it wanted to score some free food. It's not like it would be hard. Pretty much every predator is opportunistic, hunting when they have to and stealing when they can. Nothing really new there.

I don't do plants. Plants are retarded. I'm sure there are equivalents of the Pitcher Plant, Sundew Plant and the infamous Venus Fly Trap from the past. It's an adaptation that makes sense in low nitrogen soils.
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Dilophosaurus is one of the oldest theropods and was one of the first super predators, at least as far as dinosaurs are concerned. I don't know much about myself, actually.


I guess what I meant to ask is what don't we know about? Do we not have enough fossil records?

A general biology question: is there some inherent disadvantage to a bipedal design in other animals? Birds stand upright (I guess, correct me if I'm wrong), and simians kinda can too. Any modern mammals or reptiles that predominantly walk on their hind-legs?
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How can we possibly know what we don't know? I'd say it probably doesn't have a good fossil record, but I have never worked in that age of rock so I don't know.

It's not that it's a disadvantage to walk upright, it's that others haven't had the necessary pressures to get there. Birds are Bipedal, all carnivorous dinosaurs were bipedal, Duck billed dinosaurs probably ran bipedally. Frilled dragons and Basalisks run bipedally. It's more efficient when travelling and instantly makes you taller, while freeing up the other limbs for different functions.
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Why do so many biologist (and professionals in fields relating to biology) reject religion, whereas fields such as mathematics has one of the largest percentiles of Christians. I'll look for the quote (think it was USA Today years ago).
Edited by CSmith on 10/18/2011 11:24 AM PDT
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Probably because mathematics relies heavier on hypothesizing and formula, whereas biology relies on evidence, which there is none for any god.
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There is increasingly more being created, as well. For example, a recent hypothesis puts forward that it could happen between sheets of mica/biotite, as it makes a perfect environment for it!
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