Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Road to Birddom

This morning, I decided to buck my lazy Sunday morning trend and meet up with some friends at the American Museum of Natural History. I hadn't seen these particular friends in a while, and I was overdue for a renewal of my museum membership. After meeting my friends, we made a beeline for the fourth floor, which houses the dinosaurs. The greatest addition to the museum is a cast of the 122 foot long fossilized skeleton of a titanosaur found so recently that it hasn't received a species name.

After touring the fossil galleries, we headed over to the special exhibition Dinosaurs Among Us, which details the evolution of modern birds from dinosaur ancestors. The exhibit featured gorgeous fossils and models of the various feathered dinosaurs on display, including modern birds.

The largest model was a quilly Yutyrannus huali, a feathered tyrannosaur approximately thirty feet long and estimated at a ton-and-a-half in weight. Tyrannosaurs belong to the Coelurosauria clade (tyrannosaurs are discussed in this Secret Science Club lecture recap). There were numerous models representing smaller feathered dinosaurs, many of them were represented in the wonderful Feathered Dinosaurs exhibit of five years ago, which recreated the environment of China's glorious Liaoning Province fossil beds. Among the mounted specimens of modern birds was a forlorn dodo, extinct ninety years after being introduced to western science.

There were interactive exhibits detailing egg-laying, nesting, and childcare among the crocodilians, dinosaurs, and birds, including casts of dinosaur eggs and embryos and a 'life sized' dinosaur nest for kids to play dinosaur parent on. Among the dinosaur remains in this area were the fossils of two ovaraptosaurs assigned to the species Khaan mckennai and nicknamed 'Sid and Nancy'.

Another feature of the exhibit was a display on the adaptations which helped dinosaurs and birds to succeed, specifically brains and lungs. There was a video of a crow using its reasoning ability to obtain food floating in a U-shaped tube. Bird lungs, derived from the lungs of their dinosaur ancestors, are more efficient than mammalian lungs, with air sacs connected to the lungs via channels running through the hollow bones.

The exhibit also featured some charming activities for kids, including a 'build a bird' simulator, in which players could choose different options (heavy body vs light body, various sized wings and breastbones) to create different animals, ranging from a velociraptor to a penguin, to a strong-flying modern bird. Players would place the various puzzle pieces in the display, then hit a button to display an animation of their creation on a screen... a modern flying bird would reward the player with a nice 'flight' display.

After a few hours spent basking in the museum, it was time to wend my way back to the Bronx, where I had parked the car, and get myself to work. It's been a long day, longer than a typical lazy Sunday, and I'll be dragging my tailfeathers tomorrow, but renewing my membership and hitting this amazing exhibit totally makes it all worthwhile. If the exhibit comes to a museum near you, I highly recommend it, but I am a huge dinosaur nerd, by which I mean a bird nerd.


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

I haven't been to a natural history museum since they started adding feathers to the big beasts. Just seen the pics online.

When I was a kid, of course, they were all modeled as tail-draggers.

mikey said...

Y'know, I have a portion of a Hadrosaur pelvis with a .375 H&H slug embedded in it in my sock drawer...