Thanksgiving Day ReadsPosted: November 22, 2018
Are turkeys descended from dinosaurs? Probably, according to some experts. The Washington Post: How to dissect your Thanksgiving dinosaur.
On Thanksgiving, people will gather with their loved ones to share their gratitude for one another over a lavish meal. And in all likelihood, the centerpiece of this feast will be a dinosaur.
That’s right. Birds, like the turkey gracing your Thanksgiving table, are dinosaurs. They are the only dinosaurs to survive the mass extinction that wiped out T. rex, triceratops and other behemoths 65 million years ago.
Scientists got their first whiff of the bird-dinosaur connection in 1861, when they found a fossilized feathered dinosaur called archaeopteryx in Germany. But feathers aren’t our only clue that birds are dinosaurs. Since the 1800s, paleontologists have found a wealth of evidence to support this claim. And on Thanksgiving, you and your family can dissect your own personal dinosaur to see the evidence for yourself.
Shaena Montanari, a paleontologist and dinosaur expert, showed me and my friend Joe Hanson how to perform the dissection. You can follow along in a video Joe made for his YouTube channel, It’s Okay To Be Smart. We used a rotisserie chicken, but you find the exact same structures in the bones of your bird on Turkey Day.
More from Smithsonian.com: Was Tyrannosaurus a Big Turkey?
From museum displays to comic books and feature films, Tyrannosaurus rex has been celebrated as one of the biggest, meanest and ugliest predatory dinosaurs of all time. The image of this long-extinct carnivore as the apex of the apex predators has a nearly unstoppable amount of cultural inertia. Maybe that’s why people get upset when paleontologists and artists suggest that the tyrant dinosaur was at least partly covered in a coat of feathers. (Cracked.com even listed an illustration of a feathered Tyrannosaurus as one of “17 Images That Will Ruin Your Childhood.”) Such images make it seem as if the old “prize-fighter of antiquity” has gone soft—how could such an imposing predator go in for such a silly look? Tyrannosaurus was no turkey, right?
To date, no one has found the fossilized remnants of feathers with a Tyrannosaurus skeleton. A few patches of scaly skin are known from some big tyrannosaur specimens, and those scraps represent about all we know for sure about the body covering of the largest tyrants. So why is Tyrannosaurus so often depicted with a coat of dino-fuzz these days? That has everything to do with the evolutionary relationships of the great tyrannosaur lineage.
Until the early 1990s, paleontologists often placed tyrannosaurus with Allosaurus, Spinosaurus, Torvosaurus and others inside a group called the Carnosauria. These were the biggest of the carnivorous dinosaurs. But the group didn’t make evolutionary sense. As new discoveries were made and old finds were analyzed, paleontologists found that the dinosaurs within the Carnosauria actually belonged to several different and distinct lineages that had branched off from one another relatively early in dinosaur history. The tyrannosaurs were placed within the Coelurosauria, a large and varied group of theropod dinosaurs which includes dromaeosaurs, therizinosaurs, ornithomimosaurs, oviraptorosaurs and others. Almost every single coelurosaur lineage has been found to have feather-covered representatives, including the tyrannosaurs.
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Whether you’re having turkey today or not, I hope you have a wonderful, relaxing day. You may want to just ignore all the political news, but here are some stories to check out if you’re interested.
Elizabeth Spiers at The Washington Post: Ivanka Trump ignores rules because she doesn’t treat the White House as a real job.
Gabriel Sherman at Vanity Fair: No One Is In Charge: Inside Trump’s New Fox Takeover.
The Daily Beast: DHS Wouldn’t Take Mattis’ No for an Answer on Lethal Force.
The Guardian: Mohammed bin Salman expected to attend G20 summit.
The Washington Post: Trump’s dangerous message to tyrants: Flash money and get away with murder.
If you have a little extra time today, please check in and let us know what you’re doing today and what you’re grateful for.