December 16, 2008
A goofy-fun blog called Cake Wrecks finds humor in “unintentionally sad, silly, creepy, inappropriate” professionally decorated cakes. (Here’s the cake that started it all.) Blogger Jen has been searching this odd artform for a decent dinosaur cake worthy of the title Cake Rex. No winner so far, but a few absurd runners-up are worth a look.
Do you have any photos of candidate Cake Rexes? Or are you inspired to bake a better dinosaur cake for some poor soul’s next birthday? Please send Cake Wrecks (and us) your photos.
December 12, 2008
Oh, this will make you smile. Do you remember a fossil called Tiktaalik roseae that was discovered a few years ago? It’s an important transition between aquatic and terrestrial animals; it probably lived in shallow water but had shoulders and wrists that allowed it to walk on land. Now a band called The Indoorfins (Ed. note — groan) has written a very catchy song about it, called “Tiktaalik (Your Inner Fish),” and filmed a clever video of Tiktaalik wandering around Philadelphia. It’s close, but I think this video is even better than the one for Captain Beefheart’s “Smithsonian Institute [sic!] Blues.” (Tiktaalik lived about 300 million years before dinosaurs, but let’s overlook that for a moment for art’s sake.)
We interviewed Neil Shubin for Smithsonian magazine a few years ago, but I have to say that this video tells the story about as well as we did. Neil has since written a delightful book called Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body. The University of Pennsylvania had its incoming freshman class read the book and commissioned The Indoorfins to write a song based on the book.
Shubin and his colleagues are still studying their rock star fossil. They recently analyzed its neck, a feature that is useful if you’re on stuck on land and not swimming around in the sea.
One warning: the song’s “tik tik tik tik tik-talik” chorus is likely to curse you with an earworm.
November 24, 2008
The staff here at Smithsonian seems to have developed a strange fascination with dead things. There’s the Dinosaur Tracking blog, of course, which is concerned with a superorder that went extinct 65 million years ago. And at our new sister blog, Surprising Science, some of the first posts are about woolly mammoths (a mere 10,000 years dead) and the bones of astronomer Nicolaus “the earth is not the center of the universe” Copernicus (d. 1543).
Surprising Science is written by Sarah Zielinski, a biology-major-turned-journalist and an assistant editor at Smithsonian. She is interested in most types of science (“whatever is in front of me,” she says) but will focus on the subjects we tend to cover in the magazine: geology, archaeology, astronomy, animals (living or dead) and stories that have art or history or travel tie-ins. But above all, stories that are weird or quirky or unexpected or amusing. We hope you’ll enjoy it.
October 28, 2008
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! No, not that holiday with all the jingle bells and mistletoe business. It’s almost Halloween, the holiday that’s all about candy, petty vandalism and dress-up. Ever want to tyrannize the world like a T. rex? Lumber around gulping party snacks like an Apatosaurus? Stain the carpet like a coprolite? This is the holiday for you, and we want to hear all about it.
We’re looking for the Best Costume Ever, Dinosaur Division. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to submit your photos from this year or years past.
And even though crocodilians and dinosaurs diverged hundreds of millions of years ago, you’ve got to see this.
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