Most of us have heard of a Brontosaurus or a Triceratops. But what about their Asian kin like Mamenchisaurus and Jingshanosaurus? Not so much.
Although this may come as a surprise, China is now the center of the hottest dinosaur research news. From the newest species to the most-recent evolutionary theories, China is the place. That's why Chinasaurs is stomping its way into Dallas at the Museum of Nature and Science tomorrow.
"The exhibit gives one a glimpse, and hopefully a greater appreciation of, the wider diversity of animals that populated our planet in the distant past," explains Ron Tykoski, Ph.D., chief fossil preparator at the Museum of Nature & Science.
The exhibit includes more than 20 full-scale dinosaur skeletons (up to 42 feet in length); fossilized dinosaur nests and eggs; and five animatronic Chinasaurs. The Mamenchisaurus (the longest-necked dinosaur ever discovered), Jingshanosaurus (42 feet long) and Tuojiangosaurus (complete with a back full of spikes) will all be there.
In preparation for the exhibit, we bent the ear of Dr. Tykoski to find out a little more about what all of this means...and, well, to see where he'd throw his bones -- so to speak -- if he had to bet on which dino would win in various competitive situations:
What kind of important dinosaur related discoveries from Asia have come to light of late? A relatively recent example was the discovery in the mid-1990s of skeletons of small, predatory dinosaurs that preserved the impressions and carbonized stains of feathers around their bodies, providing us a solid piece of evidence that feathers likely evolved long before the first bird (which is just another kind of dinosaur) took to the air, as well as providing potential clues about the physiology of these animals that had only been speculative before.
Why do you think people are so fascinated with dinosaurs? People are fascinated by the prospects of encountering large beasts, and dinosaurs represent the upper limit of large for terrestrial animals. Also, because there are no modern examples, our imagination is allowed to play more of a role in reconstructing these animals in our minds, and people do like fantasy.
Why do you think it took so long for this info to be shared with the rest of the world? Up until very recently, China, and other central-Asian countries, were still lagging behind much of the Western world with regard to infrastructure, scholarly investigations, and harsh government control of access and information release. With the fall of the Soviet Union, the democratization of Mongolia, and the loosening of state controls in China, more access to these regions by western scientists and increased collaboration with the local paleontologists has occurred, bringing more of these important finds to light.
What is the dinosaur-related discovery that you most often hope for? That's a tough one. I think a discovery that would have important implications for me as a specialist on early carnivorous dinosaurs would be a specimen similar to the Chinese feathered dinosaurs, except a far more primitive a dinosaur. We already now know (as a result of the feathered dinosaurs from a set of Chinese fossil lake deposits) that several types of small to medium sized carnivorous dinosaurs were feathered, and that has set off debate since about the origin of feathers, its timing, their purpose, etc. If someone found a primitive dinosaur similarly preserved, with feather impressions around its skeleton, it would require a substantial shift in our understanding of early dinosaur physiology.
We also asked Dr. Tykoski to be the judge in the...
Bar fight with no posse: T. rex or Jingshanosaurus? Tyrannosaurus rex. No contest. Two or three times the weight, jaws lined with massive teeth, and huge neck and jaw muscles to power them. What's left of the Jingshanosaurus would have to be carried out of the bar.
5K sprint: Velociraptor or Microraptor? Both are members of the same group of small predatory dinosaurs, the dromaeosaurids. Both are quick, with good stamina, and bad attitudes. Microraptor evidently bore flight feathers on both its arms and legs, perhaps giving it an advantage if it could glide from tree to tree, a nice endurance-stretching mode of locomotion. However, in the absence of trees from which to glide, I have to give the edge to the dog-sized Velociraptor over the crow-sized Microraptor. Longer legs give it the advantage for a 5k sprint.
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Competitive eating contest: Monolophosaurus or Tuojiangosaurus? Tough one to call. Monolophosaurus was a medium-sized, strict carnivore, Toujiangosaurus a rhino-sized herbivore. Toujinagosaurus probably spent most of its waking hours munching through vegetation. A Monolophosaurus may have gorged itself nearly sick at a meal, then shuffle away to sleep it off for hours or days until hungry again. If it is a timed competitive eating contest, I have to go with the quick gulping and gorging Monolophosaurus.
Weightlifting competition: Triceratops or Sinosauropteryx? Triceratops. No contest. We're talking about the difference between an elephant-sized herbivore with deltoids and pecs bigger around than a human body, versus Sinosauropteryx, a carnivore the size and weight of a poodle.
Boxing Match: Dilophosaurus or Mamenchisaurus? Have to go with Mamenchisaurus here. A full-grown animal was probably in the 60-80ft range, weighing perhaps twenty tons. Dilophosaurus sinensis was about 20ft long, weighing maybe 1000lbs (big brown-bear sized). Although Dilophosaurus had pretty powerfully built arms for its size, one downward stomp landing from the forelimb of an adult Mamenchisaurus would have the same effect on Dilophosaurus as a piledriver on a watermelon. Not a pretty sight.