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Passerine birds fight dirty, a la Velociraptor

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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No time to finish anything new, gah. In desperation, here’s a classic article from the Tet Zoo archives, originally published in March 2009. It has some minor updates.

Battling Great tits (Parus major). I don't know the name of the photographer but will add it when I find out.

I used to receive random unsolicited emails from an individual who strongly promoted the idea that birds could not not not not be dinosaurs, that the entire dinosaur family tree was screwed up beyond belief, that ‘dinosaurs’ had evolved from random assorted diverse archosaurs, that cladistics was rubbish, and that all mainstream palaeontologists were idiots [UPDATE; I still do]. For some reason, the study of dinosaurs attracts people with strong ‘fringe’ beliefs. This must be a by-product of popularity, as you don’t get this with temnospondyls, fossil ostriches, Eocene primates, corals or sea jellies (at least, as far as I know).

The famous 'fighting dinosaurs': Velociraptor (lying on its side) vs Protoceratops. Image by Yuya Tamai, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Anyway, said individual claimed that the ‘fighting’ specimen of Velociraptor [shown above; image by Yuya Tamai] provided compelling evidence for his assertion that feathers were indisputably absent in non-avialan maniraptorans. The Velociraptor is lying on its side, its left hindfoot jammed up against the Protoceratops’s neck, its left hand is gripping the Protoceratops’s frill, and its right arm is clamped shut in the Protoceratops’s beak. Anyway, the fact that the Velociraptor in question is on its side, apparently grappling with this formidable opponent, was taken by said individual to show that feathers must have been absent. After all, said individual argued, feathers would get damaged and broken if their owner grappled in this fashion, and hence feathers are utterly incongruous with this sort of predation.

Needless to say this is all insane rambling nonsense. Like it or not, Velociraptor and kin really did have feathers: as if the presence of indisputable feathers in other dromaeosaur and maniraptoran specimens is not proof enough (e.g., Ji et al. 1998, 2001, Zhou et al. 2000a, b, Hwang et al. 2002, Norell et al. 2002, Norell & Xu 2005), the presence of quill nodes in Velociraptor (Turner et al. 2007) demonstrates once and for all that this animal was feathered [UPDATE: and, of course, numerous additional feathered non-avialan maniraptorans have been discovered since this was written].

Fighting European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris); image by Matthew Wills, from the Backyard and Beyond blog.

As it happens, the idea that feathered dinosaurs could not/cannot and did not/do not wrestle or grapple with prey is also absurd and woefully naive nonsense. Birds of many species often roll or squirm around on the ground (sometimes for protracted periods) when subduing prey or fighting. A series of photographs taken by Shelly Grossman, and appearing in various of Roger Tory Peterson’s books (e.g., Peterson 1968), show a Great horned owl Bubo virginianus fighting with, and killing, a snake. The owl is literally lying on its side, grappling with the snake on the ground and grabbing it in both its bill and feet. Perhaps even more impressive are those cases when birds – particularly passerines – get into territorial scraps and, similarly, roll around on the ground and wrestle with their feet. I’ve seen male Blackbirds Turdus merula do this but have never been quick enough to photograph it.

More battling starlings wrestling on the ground. Image from Flux & Flux (1993).

Due, it seems, to intense competition over nesting boxes, introduced starlings Sturnus vulgaris in New Zealand have been observed and photographed engaging in long, protracted wrestling bouts. The two combatants grasp each others heads in their feet and then try to dig their claws into the opponent’s eyes (Flux & Flux 1993). Even when picked up by people, the birds continue to fight, and some individuals die this way, locked in combat. For several fighting starling images in addition to the one used above, see this article on Matthew Wills’s Backyard and Beyond blog. Bell (2002) reported a case in which two fighting New Zealand starlings fell off the edge of a roof while locked in wrestling combat, landed on another roof, and eventually fell off this too, then landing on the ground four metres below. They fought all the while, this going on for an incredible 45 minutes. There are other reports of this protracted terrestrial wrestling in the starling literature, but it isn’t unique to starlings. Taylor (1969) reported two male Bellbirds Anthornis melanura that were also found locked in combat, and there are other examples of this sort of thing in the literature. Wrestling Great tits Parus major are shown at the top of the article.

So, birds can and do wrestle, sometimes engaging in protracted terrestrial bouts of foot-gripping that literally involves the birds tumbling and rolling around on the ground. Ergo, the fact that non-avialan theropods like Velociraptor apparently engaged in this behaviour is perfectly concordant with the fact that they were feathered too. Birds are pretty metal, just like the dinosaurs they descend from.

And seeing as this article is partly a celebration of the dinosaurian nature of birds,  I suppose it’s as good a time as any to advertise the existence of the following t-shirt design. You can buy it here at the Tet Zoo redbubble shop.

The text says, at top: You know those small flying dinosaurs you see all over the place? ... and, at bottom: I think some people call them "birds".

Next: Katrina van Grouw and The Unfeathered Bird!

For previous Tet Zoo articles on interesting aspects of bird behaviour, see…

Refs – -

Bell, B. D. 2004. Prolonged aggressive encounter between two starlings below a prospective nest site. Notornis 51, 53-55.

Flux, J. E. C. & Flux, M. M. 1993. Nature red in claw: how and why starlings kill each other. Notornis 39, 293-300.

Hwang, S. H., Norell, M. A., Ji, Q. & Gao, K. 2002. New specimens of Microraptor zhaoianus (Theropoda: Dromaeosauridae) from northeastern China. American Museum Novitates 3381, 1-44.

Ji, Q., Currie, P. J., Norell, M. A. & Ji, S. 1998. Two feathered dinosaurs from northeastern China. Nature 393, 753-761.

- ., Norell, M. A., Gao, K.-Q., Ji, S.-A. & Ren, D. 2001. The distribution of integumentary structures in a feathered dinosaur. Nature 410, 1084-1088.

Norell, M. A., Ji, Q., Gao, K., Yuan, C., Zhao, Y. & Wang, L. 2002. ‘Modern’ feathers on a non-avian dinosaur. Nature 416, 36-37.

- . & Xu, X. 2005. Feathered dinosaurs. Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences 33, 277-299.

Peterson, R. T. 1968. The Birds. Time-Life International, Nederland.

Taylor, R. H. 1969. Male Bellbirds locked in combat. Notornis 15, 63.

Turner, A. H., Makovicky, P. J. & Norell, M. A. 2007. Feather quill knobs in the dinosaurVelociraptorScience 317, 1721.

Zhou, Z.-H. & Wang, X.-L. 2000a. A new species of Caudipteryx from the Yixian Formation of Liaoning, northeast China. Vertebrata PalAsiatica 38, 111-127.

- ., Wang, X.-L., Zhang, F.-C. & Xu, X. 2000b. Important features of Caudipteryx – evidence from two nearly complete new specimens. Vertebrata PalAsiatica 38, 241-254.

Darren Naish About the Author: Darren Naish is a science writer, technical editor and palaeozoologist (affiliated with the University of Southampton, UK). He mostly works on Cretaceous dinosaurs and pterosaurs but has an avid interest in all things tetrapod. His publications can be downloaded at darrennaish.wordpress.com. He has been blogging at Tetrapod Zoology since 2006. Check out the Tet Zoo podcast at tetzoo.com! Follow on Twitter @TetZoo.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. JoseD 11:25 am 06/16/2014

    “I used to receive random unsolicited emails from an individual who strongly promoted the idea that birds could not not not not be dinosaurs, that the entire dinosaur family tree was screwed up beyond belief, that ‘dinosaurs’ had evolved from random assorted diverse archosaurs, that cladistics was rubbish, and that all mainstream palaeontologists were idiots [UPDATE; I still do].”

    If I may ask, is this the same guy who wrote “The Secret Dinobird Story”? I ask b/c the book looks a lot like what you said in the above quote.

    Anyway, many thanks for bringing back another dino-related classic. Also, while I’m not a big fan of spending my money on clothes, I may have to get that new shirt (probably after I get my 1st dino-related job).

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  2. 2. JoseD 11:27 am 06/16/2014

    EDIT: When I said “the book”, I meant “the book description”.

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  3. 3. naishd 11:30 am 06/16/2014

    The author of the book concerned is an especially hateful individual who has made deliberate efforts to erode my credibility; he has also spied on me, taken secret photographs of me, and promised to teach me a lesson with a baseball bat (he’s banned from commenting here, by the way). But, nope, it’s not him! One weird aspect of the big haters is that they develop strong personal obsessions with the people whose stuff they dislike.

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  4. 4. Chabier G. 11:34 am 06/16/2014

    I can’t understand that argument (‘They couldn’t be feathered because they wrestled’). Bird feathers can be really tough, e.g. Eagle Owls don’t moult the first flight feather until they are 2 years old. I remember how resilient feathers can be each time I see a Sparrowhawk pouncing like a missile amid the foliage of a fruit bearing mulberry tree, to surprise the starlings. Feathers are not a muslin dress. And Velocirraptor feathers would be really tough.

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  5. 5. naishd 11:36 am 06/16/2014

    Chabier G — yes, you are exactly right. The argument comes from someone who is clearly highly unfamiliar with birds or how they actually behave.

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  6. 6. JoseD 11:48 am 06/16/2014

    Almost forgot: This article reminds me of Pickrell’s “Flying Dinosaurs”. I bring it up b/c I heard it’s out in the UK (It doesn’t come out in the US ’til Sept.) & was wondering whether you’ve read it, how it is quality-wise, & whether it’s more for “casual readers” or “the enthusiast” ( see this article )? Many thanks in advance.

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  7. 7. Chabier G. 11:50 am 06/16/2014

    And, well, I didn’t know that Palaeontological Research could be so dangerous. One can find fanatics everywhere, not only inside religious communities, but it’s hard to see such a behaviour in a person that calls himself “scientist”. Secret photographs and, baseball bats, really terrible.

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  8. 8. irenedelse 12:15 pm 06/16/2014

    Woah! I agree with Chabier G., that’s a level of nastiness no-one should have to deal with. I hope this individual doesn’t go to paleontology conferences. :-(

    And that’s a gorgeous t-shirt! Pity I’m in short funds this month or RedBubble would’ve had another customer.

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  9. 9. Heteromeles 12:56 pm 06/16/2014

    @3: This is why, I think, some researchers wear clip-on bow ties rather than traditional long ties. A physicist friend of mine actually got into an argument with a colleague who ended up trying to strangle him with his tie. Gotta love professional debate. In any case, bowties can be adorably nerdy, and if someone tries to strangle you with one, if the clip comes off, that’s all to the good, right?

    Anyway, feathers are awesome, and every free range chicken can channel the spirit of a velociraptor if sufficiently provoked. Now, if only some raptor group came with ankle spurs, that would be truly cool.

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  10. 10. TheologyGeology 1:23 pm 06/16/2014

    Aaand then you have the Rufous Hummingbirds here who smack into other hummingbirds like freight trains. Not much wrestling, mind you, but when one drops into your lap after an altercation, it’s rather startling!

    (I’ve also watched Western Kingbirds wrestle like the starlings above; except this time, it was a three-way fight, which started after one grabbed a butterfly. Kingbirds are wierd.)

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  11. 11. Gigantala 3:56 pm 06/16/2014

    Butt (geddit) burdz arent dinosaors their [eloved form*] CORCODILES/RACHOSAURMROPHS/LIZERDS/PTERODACTYLS!!!!11111!!!!!!!!1111 U SUK!!!!!11111!!!!!!!!!1111!!!11!!1!

    * Must never forget the asinine failure at cladistics

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  12. 12. naishd 3:58 pm 06/16/2014

    If only you’d gone with a pseudonym, you could well have passed for one of the Tet Zoo haters :)

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  13. 13. Cahokia 4:43 pm 06/16/2014

    Off topic, but what are your thoughts on the new paper on non-avian dinosaur thermoregulation and mesothermy?

    My initial reaction is that it doesn’t make sense to lump echidnas, leatherback turtles, tuna, and great white sharks together with non-avian dinosaurs as far as thermoregulation goes.

    In terms of the evolution of flight, it’d be interesting if somebody could do a similar study using pterosaur growth rates in comparison to early birds.

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  14. 14. John Harshman 8:31 pm 06/16/2014

    Re #10 above: When I was an undergrad in ornithology class, one student’s class project was to investigate responses of hummingbirds (Anna’s, I think) to predators. She took a stuffed great horned owl and put it near some hummingbird hangout, intending to measure something or other. But the experiment ended when the first hummer encountered knocked the head off the owl.

    Darren: I’m curious about the rationale, if any, for the particular species represented in the t-shirt. Why three anseriforms? (Not that I’m complaining; big anseriform fan.) Why Falcunculus, particularly? Etc.

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  15. 15. Mark Robinson 2:45 am 06/17/2014

    I was surprised to see that this post was third on the list when I entered “Battling Great tits” into Google. That’s a good thing, right?

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  16. 16. naishd 4:13 am 06/17/2014

    Thanks for all the great comments. Whenever this issue is mentioned (fighting birds), people always share great anecdotes – about corvids, hummingbirds, ducks, coots.. Anyone who claims or argues or thinks that birds are delicate creatures that can’t tussle and scrap and roll around is horrendously naive, out of touch with the behaviour of real animals.

    Dinosaurian mesothermy (comment # 13): yes, I’m sceptical, for the reasons already mentioned by others in news stories on this paper. Empirical biomechanical data already provides good evidence that some non-bird dinosaurs were metabolically similar to conventional endotherms; it seems likely that some extinct archosaurs would have been metabolically ‘intermediate’, but active terrestrial bipeds like big theropods? I dunno. Any study that emphasises the fact that metabolic styles fall somewhere along a spectrum is good, I suppose

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  17. 17. naishd 4:17 am 06/17/2014

    John Harshman asks (comment # 14)…

    Darren: I’m curious about the rationale, if any, for the particular species represented in the t-shirt. Why three anseriforms? (Not that I’m complaining; big anseriform fan.) Why Falcunculus, particularly? Etc.

    A: the bird species illustrated represent ones that I have drawings of. No other rationale :)

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  18. 18. Jerzy v. 3.0. 5:11 am 06/17/2014

    I still think that Velociraptor hunting Protoceratops *should* be a fringe theory. It is visible for every layman that Protoceratops is predator of Velociraptors.

    ;)

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  19. 19. Chabier G. 6:35 am 06/17/2014

    If pneumatic openings in the vertebrae of Theropods can be taken as real evidence for the presence of aerial sacs,Theropods should be considered endothermic, I think, because such a sophisticated breeding aparat system has little sense in an organism with low metabolic rates.
    I find pretty convincing the hypothesis of the development of birdlike breeding system by the first, small dinosaurs, as a response to the Late Triasic dramatic decreasing in oxygen concentration. Perhaps this acquisistion gave rise to high metabolic rates endothermy when oxygen levels recovered.

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  20. 20. darkgabi 7:21 am 06/17/2014

    since everyone’s sharing stories of battling birds, i will share one, although i saw no wrestling. so i was going home and was in my street when i heard loud tweets. suddenly, a big bird landed on my side of the sidewalk followed by a herd of smaller ones. it was a pica, and i saw two passer and thought “oh maybe someone stole an egg here”. then i realised there were also two turdus. they were making a fuzz, “screeming” loud but did not come closer to the pica… also the turdus were acting like that. the pica started eating what it had caught, it seemed and i noticed it was not an egg. it was bigger and dark, and i thought it had fur so i thought it was a small mouse. but then why the passer and the turdus were so irritated? as i walked closer, i scared the passer and the turdur away and, at some point when i was closer, also the pica. then i saw what it had on its beak: another passer! not sure if a juvenile or sub adult or what, but that was defo another bird! i did not know picas would attack passer and eat them. and the impression i had was the turdus were kinda helping the passer… that was awesome.

    on the mesothermy paper, i thought it was a cool paper. i think it’s good we stop classifying some things in dichotomies and add a gradient instead. on the other hand it does sound a bit strange that all dinosaurs were classified as mesotherms… they’re such a diverse group, plus i think some grpahs of their seemed to indicate some dinosaurs were endothermier than others and maybe they should have indicated that. i also believe some theropods were closer to endothermy… but it was a nice study anyways, imo.

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  21. 21. Varanussalvator 8:37 am 06/17/2014

    Ah yes, P**** M******, I can’t believe years have passed since he was banned. What has he been sending you lately?

    What a coincidence, I was thinking of asking whether you were comfortable with dedicating some time on the Tet Zoo Podcast discussing some of the cranks you’ve encountered, apart from David Peters, and this person came to mind.

    Besides these examples of fighting raptors and passerines, I thought fighting cocks clearly illustrated how birds could fight violent, bloody battles.

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  22. 22. Varanussalvator 8:39 am 06/17/2014

    And dammit, I remember John Jackson’s crazy rants too!

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  23. 23. irenedelse 9:30 am 06/17/2014

    @ Chabier G.:

    “If pneumatic openings in the vertebrae of Theropods can be taken as real evidence for the presence of aerial sacs,Theropods should be considered endothermic, I think, because such a sophisticated breeding aparat system has little sense in an organism with low metabolic rates.”

    You mean breathing apparatus, here? (Going from context.) :-/

    And speaking of the (un)surprising solidity of bird feathers, as someone who used to have outdoor cats, I can bring up a few anecdotes too. I remember well seeing little birds half dead from being toyed with by a cat, with blood oozing from wounds, but still show little damage to their feathers. “Pretty metal” really sums it up: feathers can in a large measure bend and twist under pressure, without breaking or losing their structural integrity. I’m tempted to compare feathers with the bamboo, or cotton fiber, or even paper body armor used by humans in various circumstances. Lightweight but great at shock absorption.

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  24. 24. JoseD 10:42 am 06/17/2014

    Darkgabi: “on the mesothermy paper, i thought it was a cool paper. i think it’s good we stop classifying some things in dichotomies and add a gradient instead. on the other hand it does sound a bit strange that all dinosaurs were classified as mesotherms… they’re such a diverse group, plus i think some grpahs of their seemed to indicate some dinosaurs were endothermier than others and maybe they should have indicated that. i also believe some theropods were closer to endothermy… but it was a nice study anyways, imo.”

    I was wondering about that too. Specifically, whether Grady et al. 2014 cited Erickson et al. 2009 (I don’t have access to the former, so IDK), which showed that oviraptorsaurs, deinonychosaurs, & early birds (including Archaeopteryx) grew at rates comparable to endothermic marsupials. In any case, I think that Sampson (in Chapter 11 of “Dinosaur Odyssey”: http://www.amazon.com/Dinosaur-Odyssey-Fossil-Threads-Life/dp/0520269896/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1371227367&sr=1-1 ) makes a good case for non-coelurosaurian dinos being mesothermic, non-bird maniraptorans being endothermic, & non-maniraptoran coelurosaurs being somewhere in-between.

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  25. 25. DavidMarjanovic 11:21 am 06/17/2014

    I hope this individual doesn’t go to paleontology conferences.

    Neither the one nor the other.

    This is why, I think, some researchers wear clip-on bow ties rather than traditional long ties.

    …The times when professional scientists wore such formal attire every day, or even just at conferences, are generally over. Full professors tend to dress fancier than other participants at conferences, some people dress up on the day they give their presentation, and there are generational and individual differences in preferred styles, but it’s just not the default to wear any kind of tie anymore. T-shirts such as the above are popular at conferences.

    And besides, only three people have worn bowties in the 21st century: Bill Nye the Science Guy, Bill Gates, and Wolfgang Schüssel. The times when you could spot a male nerd by his bowtie are long gone.

    A physicist friend of mine actually got into an argument with a colleague who ended up trying to strangle him with his tie.

    o_O
    O_o
    o_o
    O_O

    I’ve witnessed a heated argument where one of the two got all red in the face and I seriously expected I’d have to jump between them to prevent violence any second now. Instead, one of them mentioned evidence supporting his hypothesis, and so the situation was defused.

    My initial reaction is that it doesn’t make sense to lump echidnas, leatherback turtles, tuna, and great white sharks together with non-avian dinosaurs as far as thermoregulation goes.

    My initial reaction is that, based on the figure of the same paper, all of the above are in the lower part of the endotherm range; I can’t see the point of making a separate new category for them. But that’s an initial reaction – I still haven’t read the paper at leisure.

    I was surprised to see that this post was third on the list when I entered “Battling Great tits” into Google. That’s a good thing, right?

    Oh yes. =8-)

    I’m tempted to compare feathers with the bamboo, or cotton fiber, or even paper body armor used by humans in various circumstances.

    Feathers themselves have been used as battle armor.

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  26. 26. Chabier G. 12:09 pm 06/17/2014

    @Irenedelse:

    Yes, shame on me, I wanted to write “breathing system”, both “breathe” and “breed” sound very similar in a Spanish mind. Thanks for the correction.
    About feather resilience, I deal with injured wild birds every day, and, normally, feathers are the least damaged part after traumatic casualties. As you have said, a bird can have its bones broken, its skin and muscles torn up, and feathers in good condition.
    Of course bullets, electrocution and harvest machines cause feather breaks, but then the rest of the body uses to be worse.
    Bamboo is exactly that we use to make feather implants, it works in many medium sized birds, but not in Griffon Vultures, as they try to cut off every new material you put onto their body surface.
    One exception from feather resilience is the plumage of Honey Buzzard, cover feathers of this raptors have a hard, almost scaly consistency, acting as an armour to deal with wasp stings. The flight feathers of Honey Buzzard are also more brittle than normal, and tend to be broken if the bird has some lesion in the wings and has to walk for too long.

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  27. 27. chris y 1:35 pm 06/17/2014

    Went to look at the Flying Dinosaurs book at Amazon, because it sounded interesting. But about five pages into it, in the “Look Inside” function, it asserts that sauropods were ornithischians. The problem with this sort of thing is that it’s probably an editorial oversight, but, one like that and you would spend your whole time reading the book and thinking, “I wonder if that’s true?”

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  28. 28. Halbred 1:49 pm 06/17/2014

    There’s a sizeable lake by my parents’ house which has two or three small islands dotting its surface. Seagulls nest on the largest island seasonally. Two bald eagles have been nesting in the same tree along the lake’s edge for a decade. According to my dad, several years ago, both of the eagles descended on the seagull island and literally walked from nest to nest gulping chicks while a hundred angry seagulls screeched and dive-bombed them from above. According to dad, the eagles couldn’t have cared less. Once they’d had their fill, they just flew away.

    This struck me as unusual–whenever one of the eagles flies anywhere near that island now, all of the seagulls mob it until it goes away. I wonder if that incident so many years ago is what caused the seagulls to, today, be so incensed by eagles.

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  29. 29. Zoovolunteer 2:40 pm 06/17/2014

    So, did pinnate feathers at least originally evolve as body armour?

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  30. 30. Jerzy v. 3.0. 7:40 pm 06/17/2014

    “Feathers themselves have been used as battle armor.”

    Breast feathers of a pheasant were used to make an effective bulletproof vest. Serious here – this is another factoid I read somewhere. The basis was the observation that shot pheasant often happily flies off. Perhaps these feathers originally evolved to deflect thorns and branches when the pheasant is flushed in vegetation.

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  31. 31. irenedelse 10:38 am 06/18/2014

    “Why three anseriforms? (Not that I’m complaining; big anseriform fan.)”

    Even if it’s a coincidence, I like the goose with with the ‘teeth’ on its beak. Looks quite dinosaurian.

    “And besides, only three people have worn bowties in the 21st century: Bill Nye the Science Guy, Bill Gates, and Wolfgang Schüssel. The times when you could spot a male nerd by his bowtie are long gone.”

    Erm, the Eleventh Doctor?… ^^;

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  32. 32. Heteromeles 1:38 pm 06/18/2014

    More people than that wear bowties (there’s even a wikipedia entry on the subject, and the list includes George Will, Erwin Schrodinger, and Aleister Crowley), but you’re right, t-shirts have become more common, at least for men. Still, any male scientist dealing with controversial subjects (the genetics of race, climate change, etc.) might want to wear a clip-on tie, at least in some venues.

    Women, of course, are free to whatever they feel is appropriate.

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  33. 33. irenedelse 2:44 pm 06/18/2014

    Weird. Just saw today this cover of a French magazine. The man in the picture is Laurent Fabius, our minister of foreign affairs, and the intent is to highlight the government’s commitment to dealing with climate change… Apparently, he’s embodying the popular idea of a TV meteo presentator, hence the white shirt and bow tie.

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  34. 34. Tayo Bethel 7:58 pm 06/18/2014

    @ NaishD:
    Your hater clearly has never been to, or lived anywhere near, a farm of any kind. If feathers were as delicate as he is assuming, cocks would refuse to fight each other or attack predators, not to mention the fact that flight is a highly demanding activity that puts quite a bit of strain on flight structures. It was probably the very fact that feathers are such resilient structures that preadapted them to flight. If they had not been, birds most likely would not be recognizable as such. Theropod bats, anyone? lol

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  35. 35. DavidMarjanovic 10:38 am 06/19/2014

    Erm, the Eleventh Doctor?… ^^;

    Well, “century” is a bit hard to apply to a Time Lord… :-]

    Women, of course, are free to whatever they feel is appropriate.

    Their appearance is policed in other, often contradictory, ways.

    Weird. Just saw today this cover of a French magazine.

    Huh. That looks really weird. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a French weather report – do they really dress like that?

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  36. 36. irenedelse 10:51 am 06/19/2014

    I don’t have a TV, but last time I saw a meteo report, the meteo person was a lady in a dress. But apparently the bow tie is a wink to one Michel Cardoze, former celebrity meteo presentator of TF1, the main private TV channel here, who used to sport one on air. “Monsieur Météo” is the usual nickname for any such male meteo anchor.

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  37. 37. Christopher Taylor 8:35 pm 06/19/2014

    On our brief passage through Paris a few years ago, my partner and I were intrigued by the weather reports being given by a woman by the name of (IIRC) Marine, who had a somewhat… breathy way of giving the weather forecast. We couldn’t help imagining she must have been something of an audience favourite.

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  38. 38. ectodysplasin 10:38 am 06/21/2014

    @darren,

    This must be a by-product of popularity, as you don’t get this with temnospondyls, fossil ostriches, Eocene primates, corals or sea jellies (at least, as far as I know).

    For a hypothesis to be “fringe” you need to have (1) enough workers to have a consensus and (2) enough data for that consensus to be convincing. Your examples generally don’t meet one or both of these conditions. There are almost certainly current hypotheses in all these cases which will be looked back upon as “fringe” in 50 years.

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  39. 39. DavidMarjanovic 10:11 am 06/22/2014

    Which examples? “[T]he idea that birds could not not not not be dinosaurs, that the entire dinosaur family tree was screwed up beyond belief, that ‘dinosaurs’ had evolved from random assorted diverse archosaurs, that cladistics was rubbish, and that all mainstream palaeontologists were idiots”? :-)

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  40. 40. ectodysplasin 6:46 pm 06/23/2014

    Temnospondyls, fossil ostriches, Eocene primates, etc.

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  41. 41. naishd 6:51 pm 06/23/2014

    I really don’t think that there are any weird fringe ideas on the phylogeny of fossil ostriches… Eocene primates? Well, things are a bit messy, but everybody puts them in the same approximate region of the tree. Temnospondyls? Ah, tinfoil hats ahoy.

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  42. 42. ectodysplasin 7:35 pm 06/23/2014

    Fossil ostriches: this depends on where we are in 50 years, but years more of collection and research may result in a robust consensus on ratite monophyly and single/multiple origin of flightlessness in ratites. We may well end up in a situation where claiming a single origin of flightlessness in ratites is hopelessly fringe.

    Eocene primates: 50 years of research and fieldwork may lead to a robust consensus on what exactly plesiadapiforms are, on plesiadapiform monophyly, and so on.

    Temnospondyli: I’m really hoping that the lissamphibian origins debate will have reached a robust consensus in the next 50 years. Hopefully we’ll have a better understanding of caecilian origins in 50 years as well. If so, many current hypotheses will be considered “fringe” if espoused by workers at that time.

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  43. 43. naishd 7:46 pm 06/23/2014

    Let’s remember the context of the original offending bit of text: it wasn’t about whether phylogenetic hypotheses might be considered ‘fringe’ or not, but, rather that “the study of dinosaurs attracts people with strong ‘fringe’ beliefs”. Whatever the state of phylogenetic knowledge on the groups mentioned, I still say think this is true.

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  44. 44. ectodysplasin 8:30 pm 06/23/2014

    Sure, but study of dinosaurs attracts a lot of people in general. This both allows us to better understand what ideas are consensus vs fringe, and means that there’s a better chance that fringe positions will be filled.

    There’s also a lot more nonspecialist awareness of dinosaurs, which can’t be said of temnospondyls or eocene primates. Most people have an awareness of the existence of Tyrannosaurus rex. Can’t say the same thing about Notharctus or Dasyceps.

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  45. 45. naishd 8:41 pm 06/23/2014

    I agree.. especially since this is exactly the point I was making in the first place (viz, that dinosaurs attract fringe viewpoints by virtue of their very popularity). Hominids have a similar issue, to a degree. Incidentally, think yourself lucky that you don’t work on groups that attract the ‘inhabitants’ of the fringe.

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  46. 46. ectodysplasin 9:06 pm 06/23/2014

    >Incidentally, think yourself lucky that you don’t work on groups that attract the ‘inhabitants’ of the fringe.

    Flip side, you need to be a bit more creative to convince funding agencies and museum boards that research on, say, temnospondyls is worth funding.

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  47. 47. irenedelse 2:16 am 06/24/2014

    At least whith dinosaurs, the media don’t cater much to fringe ideas of the “birds aren’t dinosaurs” kind. After all, the consensus opinion is sexy enough! With hominids, though, judging by recent coverage of the field, anything goes. Grrmph, evolution by fisticuffs… ><

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  48. 48. ectodysplasin 11:31 am 06/25/2014

    Paleontologists are a lot more open to allowing other research groups to access their material. This is not the case for paleoanthropologists. My gut feeling is that the limited specimen access encourages this sort of bizarre speculation because qualified workers do not have the ability to do basic science grounded in specimen-based research.

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  49. 49. irenedelse 1:11 pm 06/25/2014

    @ectodysplasin:

    That wouldn’t surprise me. Between the relative scarcity of hominid fossils (compared to large taxa like dinosaurs at least) and the always possible political implications of the work on human evolution, paleoanthropologists I’ve known generally tended to be very careful with their material. (And by politics, I don’t mean just the evolution/creationism thing, but loaded areas like whose ancestors came first to what tract of land. I did a stint at a time with a team working on the first modern humans in the Middle East. There was one skeleton from Israel whose excavation had to be surrounded by so much red tape that everybody was a bit nervous even mentioning it. And then there’s the various legislations about the handling, ownership and study of human remains, even prehistoric ones… Commercial digging has fueled the discovery of dinosaurs, invertebrates, fossil mammals and so on, but people who put ancient hominid remains on eBay could buy themselves legal troubles!)

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