October 27, 2008
Happy migration season, everyone!
The one consolation of fall’s creeping cold and darkness is that you might see very weird birds this time of year. Birds you wouldn’t normally see because they nest far to the north and spend the winter far to the south.
And birds, of course, are just latter-day dinosaurs.
Strangely enough, some dinosaurs might have migrated as well—also to escape cold and darkness, in this case, three to six months of total darkness. Mitch Leslie wrote about this idea in Smithsonian magazine in “The Strange Lives of Polar Dinosaurs“
Dinosaur fossils have been found in Alaska, the South Pole, and parts of Australia that were functionally the South Pole back in the dinosaurs’ day. The world was warmer then, but the seasons were still extreme. The question is: how did dinosaurs at these latitudes survive the long winters? Did they hibernate, hunt in the dark, flee? Here’s the relevant section:
Other dinosaurs might have migrated south for the winter (or north, if they lived in the Southern Hemisphere). [Tom] Rich [a paleontologist at Museum Victoria in Melbourne] says his dinosaurs would have made unlikely travelers. They were small, and an inland sea would have blocked their path to warmer climes. But Edmontosaurus, from Alaska’s North Slope, is a better candidate for seasonal migration. Adults were about the size of elephants, so they would not have been able to crawl under rocks when temperatures fell. Rough calculations suggest that by ambling at about 1 mile per hour—”browsing speed” for animals of that size—herds of Edmontosaurus could have journeyed more than 1,000 miles south in three months, says paleobotanist Bob Spicer of the Open University in Milton Keynes, Britain. Such a migration would have taken them out of the “zone of darkness” and into areas where plants might have still been growing.
Sounds like a lot of trouble, but today’s dominant herbivores also make difficult and sort of absurd migrations. Sorry for the shameless shilling, but to get a feel for what a dinosaur migration might have looked like, check out our stories about wildebeest on the Serengeti or pronghorn antelope migrating—or trying to—through Wyoming.
And if you don’t happen to be in Maasai Mara or the Grand Tetons to see these beasts, best of luck looking for strange birds this season. And stay warm.
Photo Credit: Peter Trusler
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