Shut Up! Dinosaurs are Still Awesome!
A few weeks back io9 had a discussion on the io9 Show considering whether or not dinosaurs could still be cool now that the majority of graphic reconstructions of them have a lot of dinosaurs covered in feathers. While I can recognize that this was being a little facetious, it still got my goat with the implication that feathered dinosaurs just looked kind of lame. You see, I not only welcomed the feathered portrayal of dinosaurs with open arms, I actually spent years of my youth wishing people would catch on to it.
Fact: I love dinosaurs. I like to think that in another life I might have been a paleontologist (Othniel, as in Othniel Charles Marsh, sounds almost like Nathaniel). Pretty much from when I was able to talk, dinosaurs have been a part of my vocabulary and broader sense of interest.
Growing up with this love of dinosaurs, I collected a vast number of dinosaur books (a lot of which I just brought down to South Carolina after our visit to Vermont), but my all time favorite of my dinosaur books was Greg S. Paul‘s “Predatory Dinosaurs of the World.” This book was just an amazing wealth of knowledge about the coolest dinosaurs, those that ate other dinosaurs (and let’s be honest, everybody knows that the predatory dinosaurs are way cooler than the herbivores). It wasn’t just this wealth of knowledge that made me love this book, it wasn’t just that Mr. Paul is an absurdly good illustrator (he’s amazing), but what really made this book stand out from any other dinosaur book I had at the time, was that Mr. Paul had chosen to portray a vast number of these prehistoric creatures with full feathered plumage and that fascinated me. You see, while it has become common now to illustrate a velociraptor covered in feathers, when Mr. Paul published this book, in 1988, it was quite an extreme and an area still of much controversy.
The idea that there might be some connection between dinosaurs and birds dates back to the first discovery of an Archaeopteryx fossil in 1861 (just two years after Darwin’s publishing of “On the Origin of Species“) but it wasn’t until the late 1990s that real solid evidence was found showing that a lot of dinosaurs really were covered in some degree of feathers. But Mr. Paul, taking some notes from the late and great Stephen Jay Gould, dared to suggest the obvious before all the details had been totally determined.
What I love about this connection of dinosaurs and birds is that I am now able to think, every time I see a bird, “Oh look, a dinosaur!” Which is much more appealing to just thinking those great things just “lost” and are gone for good. Does it lesson how ferocious and awesome dinosaurs look? No! that is ridiculous, and it isn’t about “how awesome they look” anyway. For starters, portraying them more bird like confirms that avian connection, but also supports the furthering realization that these were not just tiny brained, cold-blooded reptiles. Additionally, think of all the awesomeness of birds. Birds are some of the most fantastically beautiful and complex animals alive in the world. They are incredibly awesome. And they came from dinosaurs. Add to that, that new research on fossil dinosaur feathers is, for the first time, letting us put color to these creatures, and I think that the feathered dinosaur revolution is one of the coolest things in science to happen over the past decade.
Anyways, what made me think of this today was the always awesome Randall Monroe’s XKCD today:
Yeah, damn straight. Got that right, they are totally still badass.
Anyway, if you don’t like them with feathers, well the shut up, I don’t care what you think.