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Thursday, October 21, 2021

A terribly brilliant lizard

If dinosaurs lived today, what would they look like?

According to Dale Russell of the National Museum of Canada, they would closely resemble the stereotypical alien, a hybrid of human and dinosaur features.

In 1982, Russell proposed an evolutionary theory predicting that a certain intelligent genus, or group of similar species, of dinosaur could have developed into human-like beings he named “Dinosauroids.”

Russell believed that if the species of dinosaurs called Troodon did not go extinct about 65 million years ago, they would have evolved into a species closely resembling humans. The intelligence of this species continually increased with time, and if still alive in 2011, they could be waiting at the bus stop with you for your 8 a.m. class.

Troodon is a group of dinosaurs that were one of the first to inhabit North America. They were small, bird-like and had one of the largest brains of any dinosaur in comparison to body mass.

Just this month, scientists announced the discovery of a Troodon dinosaur in eastern Utah. Small, feathered and raptor-like, the dinosaur is thought to be 125 million years old. This is the oldest reported “raptor-like” troodontid dinosaur in North America. The bones are being housed at the College of Eastern Utah’s Prehistoric Museum.

This is the eighth new species of dinosaurs discovered in Utah in 2010.

The species is called Geminiraptor suarezarum, named after its discoverers, Marina and Celina Suarez from San Antonio, Tex. The twin sisters were graduate students from Temple University in Philadelphia, Penn. They came across the bones seven years ago while studying the geology of the site, aiming to reconstruct the paleoclimate of the early Cretaceous Period of North America 125 million years ago.

“I was looking for different areas to collect rocks and measure different sections, which have to have good exposure, and that’s how I found the site,” said Marina Suarez. “We started to climb down into that gully and to my right I saw some bones sticking out of the cliff. We came back the next day and found more bones.”

According to Suarez, it is often geologists who are the ones to find fossils.

“That’s why a lot of times geologists find the bones first. We’re there looking for other things and end up finding something else cool,” said Suarez.

James Kirkland, a paleontologist with the Utah Geological Survey, said G. suarezarum shares many characteristics with birds, including feathers, lung system and bone features. But Kirkland said this particular species’ feathers were for display and not flight, similar to ostriches.

“These animals are clearly on the line of the smartest animals. They are bird-like, with hollow bones and high metabolism,” said Kirkland. “The feathers were a display of insulation and gliding … this wasn’t flying.”

This species was also bipedal, with a large head, fragile frame and binocular vision.

Scott Foss, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) regional paleontologist, thinks we are in an era of dinosaur discovery, but it won’t last.

“We are in a dinosaur renaissance really, but I don’t think this will continue forever. This is a time of discovery, and we are discovering them like crazy,” Foss said. “The next generation is going to have to come and clean it up a little, but I don’t know if they are ever going to find eight [species] in one year again.”

Foss and Kirkland both spoke to Russell’s Dinosauroid. They agreed that if there was a species of dinosaur that would evolve such intelligence, it would be the Troodon.

“He made this humanoid Troodon, and he found that the brain of this animal is about six times larger than the brain of other dinosaurs,” said Foss. “This must be a fantastically intelligent dinosaur compared to other dinosaurs…if any dinosaur was to survive the Cretaceous extinction and were alive today, it would be the Troodon.”

CAMMIE ROLLE can be reached at science@theaggie.org.

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