Dino Blog Carnival: Edition #1

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Welcome to our inaugural Blog Carnival, a monthly round up of dinosaur-related news and analysis on the blogosphere. If you’d like to submit a post for consideration in our forthcoming Carnivals, leave your blog's URL in the comments here.

Taking Flight: “New research on the feathered dinosaur Microraptor reveals that birds may have evolved from dinosaur ancestors that flew not on two wings, but on four,” reports Ed Yong at Not Exactly Rocket Science. Scientists have long been baffled over how Microraptor used its four wings. Did it splay its legs out sideways, holding its wings in tandem like a dragonfly? Sankar Chatterjee and R. Jack Templin of Texas Tech University have concluded that Microraptor tucked its legs vertically beneath its body, so that it resembled a biplane.

As Yong notes: “This new posture may also answer a long-standing debate about the origin of flight. Some scientists believe that bird flight evolved when ground-dwelling dinosaurs began to take to the skies. In contrast to this 'ground-up' theory, the 'trees-down' camp believes that tree-dwelling dinosaurs evolved flight to glide from tree to tree. And this is exactly what Microraptor did. It lacked the muscles for a ground take-off and couldn't get a running start for fear of damaging its leg feathers. But a computer simulation showed that Microraptor could successfully fly between treetops, covering over forty meters in an undulating glide.”

In Living Color: The Houston Museum of Natural Science hosts a very entertaining and informative blog, Beyond Bones. Their mission statement: “We started this blog because we wonder. We wonder a lot….We think you wonder, too. And we want to make science, and all its fascinating facets, universally, easily, abundantly accessible to everyone who wonders about our world.” Recently, the museum opened an exhibit, “Dinosaur Mummy CSI: Cretaceous Science Investigation.” The star attraction is Leonardo, a mummified, six-ton, 77 million-year-old adult duckbilled dinosaur. On the blog, Robert Bakker, the visiting curator of paleontology, takes questions from readers, including this one:

The drawings of Leonardo in the exhibit are very colorful – how do you know what colors dinosaurs had on their skin?

His answer:

Think ‘Okapi.’ That’s the giraffe-like thing in wet woodlands today. Dinosaurs had bird-style eyes, so camouflage had to match habitat colors. Dull browns and grays were not good enough to fool an eagle-eyed gorogsaur. Early Judithian environs had wet forests with big conifer trees and, in the rainy season, thick underbrush. Dry season would bring browns & rust colors. So……..Mike Berglund (a dinosaur illustrator) has made a testable theory with his partially banded Brachy. Breaking the profile by having the tail a different color would help flummox predators, who would have a more difficult time seeing the whole body and tail shape. The thick verticals would help the beast blend in among the tree trunks.”

Dance Fever: Here’s a tip about promoting your research – If you send out a press release saying that you’ve discovered multiple dinosaur footprints, chances are nobody will notice. But, if you announce evidence of a “dinosaur dance floor,” the media will beat a path to your door. The Knight Science Journalism Tracker offers a primer on creative press releases, and provides a helpful round-up of informative articles (including a posting by our own Brian Switek) on the recent discovery of prehistoric tracks densely packed on a 3/4-acre site along the Arizona-Utah state line.

An Evolutionary Market Niche: “Dinosaur-mania washed over my two boys a couple of years back, and in its wake came some wonderful discussions about evolution, natural selection and Charles Darwin,” writes Kate Miller, a mother and scientist guest blogging over at The Meming of Life. “We turned toy boats into the Beagle and sailed around the playroom collecting plastic animals for inspection. We unfurled a roll of paper on the floor and drew ancient animals along a billion-year timeline.” But when Miller went searching for educational toys to teach kids about evolution and natural selection, she came up empty. “Even the vast dinosaur-industrial complex doesn’t touch it. Check out the next dino toy you pick up.”

So, Miller did what any concerned mom would do: She started her own educational toy company, “Charlie’s Playhouse – Games and Toys Inspired by Darwin.” Among the products is a richly illustrated 600-million-year timeline mat that “lets kids skip, jump, and play through the history of life, accompanied by ‘Charlie’ Darwin, 67 amazing creatures from the fossil record, and much more.”

The Depth of Fashion: David Hone’s Archosaur Musings offers a pictorial guide on “How to Spot a Paleontologist.” Among the identifying characteristics: A hat that features the research subject, sandals, a museum t-shirt, and no lab coat (unless being interviewed on TV).

Jurassic Dining: The “T-Rex Restaurant” opened its doors in Walt Disney World earlier this month. (See photos over at DisUnplugged.) The menu does offer vegetarian fare (such as Lava Tomato Basil Soup), so presumably, herbivores are also welcome. Still this is the only menu that I’ve seen which celebrates mass extinction. The dessert section, aptly titled “The End is Near,” features such treats as “Ice Age Indulgence” and “Meteor Bites.”

Toy Chest: Everything Dinosaur recommends “Dino-Opoly” as the must-have dinosaur gift this holiday season. But, the Toys ‘R Us 2008 Hot Toy List says that every kid will be expecting Spike the Ultra Dinosaur. (What, no love for “Tickle Me T-Rex”?)