Monday, March 4, 2013

Cannibalism in the Age of Dinosaurs: A Love Story

Many times with science, I've had a question answered before I knew I wanted to ask. This wasn't quite the case with Dr. David Hone's latest venture, but his new research project still made me wonder about something that might not have otherwise crossed my mind. The study itself isn't even the most interesting part. Dr. Hone is attempting to crowd-fund the research for publication in an open-access journal.

I won't venture too deeply into the finer points of the project, but I will say that it involves dinosaurs eating each other. (If I tell you too much, you'll be less inclined to visit the website. Let your curiosity be your guide. ) Before we tumble into a mess regarding the food chain, circle of life, and maybe a secret agent platypus, I should expand on the notion.

Everybody knows that dinosaurs ate each other. The historical relationship between predator and prey has been well documented through extensive biological study. Dr. Hone is setting out to prove that dinosaurs of the same species ate each other. (If we're lucky, he'll also discover whether or not they were delicious.)

Each contributor to the project will be entered into a raffle for this beautiful artwork courtesy of Luis Rey.

The name of this effort is Project Daspletosaurus. For those not in the know, Daspletosaurus(frightful lizard) is a genus of tyrannosaurine tyrannosaurid, which is a fancy way of saying it's a cousin of Tyrannosaurus rex.

They were an apex predator during the Upper Cretaceous Epoch between 77 and 74 million years ago, and current fossil evidence indicates that Daspletosaurus lived in what is now western North America. (If you want to know more, roll like me and check out the Wikipedia entry.) Knowing that they ate everything else, it doesn't seem like much of a stretch to imagine Daspletosaurus eating each other if push came to shove.

Throughout Earth's history, several cases of cannibalism have been observed. Most notably, two events in recent human history involve people from non-cannibalistic cultures engaging in the act for the sake of survival. These incidents have evolved to the point of inappropriate joking, but the reality that members of an advanced species would ever eat each other speaks against more primitive creatures having reservations about such behavior. (For more info about recent human cannibalism, The Donner Party and The Miracle of the Andes. Read at your own discretion.)

Here's Kup telling Grimlock an old war story from Cybertron. (Needed something to lighten the mood.)

While I don't know what the results of Dr. Hone's research will be, I feel confident that his work will be thorough and any conclusions will be drawn cautiously. I'll admit that anyone willing to put their reputation on the line by soliciting donated funding has to be a strange combination of dedicated and crazy, but that's the type of person I look to when I want a job done right.

If you would like to contribute, visit the Project Daspletosaurus website, or you can buy some cool merchandise at David Orr's online store with proceeds going to the cause. I not only endorse this project, but I've already purchased a tee shirt and donated some money. With a little more help we can get this done. As a final message for Dr. Hone:

Notes: As of this writing, 22 days remain on the fundraiser with 70% funded. I see no reason to cap it at 100. 

Twitter handle: David Orr - @anatotitan

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