Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Reconstructing Velocitaurs


While watching an armadillo digging in our lawn for food we were reminded of the hypothetical thought-experiment (Russell 1987, Russell & Seguin 1982): what if non-avian dinosaurs (specifically, troodontid maniraptorans) had not cashed in their chips at the end of the Cretaceous but, instead, had continued to evolve? We then wondered: what if in addition to their survival, so intense and dramatic was the catastrophic climatic influence on the dinosaurs that their DNA structures underwent a rapid and complete overhaul? The only survivors would be those who were able to adapt to these new conditions which might have included, let's say, the infusion of huge amounts of base elements such as iron, copper, gold, and silver and in some cases, even vegetation into their scrambled DNA structures, within a period of no more than two or three generations!
Inspired by new data on troodontid brain size, Carl Sagan speculated about intelligent dinosaurs in The Dragons of Eden (1977) and posed the question: If Cretaceous forms were already so ‘smart’, what would have happened given another 60-odd million years of evolution?
His question inspired us to speculate on troodontid anatomy and functional morphology. In 2006 we completed our first model study, ‘Reconstruction of the Cretaceous theropod Velocitaurus Crankensteineus'. This was our first hypothetical ‘evolved’ troodontid that had reached an encephalisation quotient similar to that of humans, over 50 million years ago!


Since then we have continued with these explorations incorporating a variety of conditional variations and we invite our colleagues to "imagine the possibilities".

Velocitaurs are a diverse group of animals of the clan Velocitauria.
They first appeared during the Triassic period, approximately 230 million years ago, and became the dominant terrestrial vertibrates for 135 million years, from the beginning of the Jurassic (about 200 million years ago) until the end of the Cretaceous (65.5 million years ago), when the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event led to the extinction of most dinosaur groups at the close of the Mesozoic era. The fossil record indicates that velocitaurs evolved from the teropod dinosaurs during the Jurassic, and consequently they are considered a type of dinosaur in modern classification systems. Some Velocitaurs survived the extinction event that occurred 65 million years ago, and continue the dinosaur lineage to the present day.