Thursday, March 20, 2014

Ancient Monsters of the Deep - Now in Color!

Well, spring is here and winter is finally over! Isn't it great! Here in Utah, we don't have a whole lot of seasonal changes, but we have been experiencing dogwoods and other trees in bloom. Their very beautiful this time of year. Anyway, let's get started with our “usuals”.

Days Till
It is: Springtime!!!
It is: 24 days till Palm Sunday
It is: 33 days till our Friday performance of the “The King on a Cross”
It is: 31 days till Easter

In the Spotlight
Today we've got some more terrific news from two great upcoming films: Dolphin Tale 2 and Jurassic World. Concerning DT2, as many of you might know, they recently finished the production process and have moved on to the post-production stage. On April 11, the first trailer for the film is going to appear on television!!! I can't wait to see it!

Just last week, it was revealed that the Asian actor Irrfan Khan is portraying the owner of the new Jurassic Park in the film Jurassic World (initially titled Jurassic Park IV). Earlier this week, we learned some more terrific news about the film: IGN had a recent interview with the film's director Colin Trevorrow and he not only spills some facts we never knew before about the the new characters in the film, but he also revealed a character from the first Jurassic Park that will be in JW – Dr. Henry Wu!!!

B. D. Wong is going to portray Dr. Henry Wu in Jurassic World!!!
Dr. Henry Wu – who was portrayed by B.D. Wong – was the head geneticist at Jurassic Park and is one of the people responsible for bringing John Hammond's dream to reality. Jurassic Park: The Game (which is considered part of the Jurassic Park film canon) reveals that Dr. Wu took over the role as head geneticist after the former head geneticist, Dr. Laura Sorkin, disagreed to take “short cuts” when it came to recreating the dinosaurs and was demoted. In the first film, Dr. Wu has a very small but also very crucial part. In the fourth film however, it appears that he'll have a much larger part. Here is a snippet of the interview with Trevorrow where he talks about Dr. Wu and some information about the film's new characters:
"I know a lot of fans want to see the original characters back. They’re iconic. But I respect those actors too much to shoehorn them into this story for my own sentimental reasons. Jurassic Park isn’t about the bad luck of three people who keep getting thrown into the same situation. The only reason they’d go back to that island is if the screenwriters contrived a reason for them to go. But there is a character from the first film who makes sense in our world. This hasn’t been announced yet, but BD Wong will be returning as Dr. Henry Wu. He had a much larger role in the original novel, he was the engineer of this breakthrough in de-extinction. He spent two decades living in Hammond’s shadow, underappreciated. We think there’s more to his story."
He went into detail about Chris Pratt's character, Owen:
"He’s a classic hero in a very modern context. He’s the guy who will get you through the jungle alive – but like Malcolm, Grant and Sattler, he’s an expert in a scientific field that’s connected to our story. The character allows us to explore some new ideas about our relationship with these animals, without losing the humor and sense of adventure. He’s a great contrast for Bryce Dallas Howard’s character, who starts off very corporate, very controlled. Until the running and screaming starts. Then they need each other."
I'm really glad that Dr. Henry Wu is making a comeback and I agree with Trevorrow's decision not to include Dr. Ian Malcolm, Dr. Alan Grant and Dr. Ellie Sattler in the fourth film; after all, they criticized the park! Why on earth would they be in JW's new park if they despise it? So really, Trevorrow's decision makes a lot of sense to me.

Topic of the Week by Christian Ryan
In the January of 2014, scientists at the Lund University in Sweden discovered that by looking at the melanosomes on specimens of fossilized marine reptile skins, they've been able to tell what their most likely skin color was in life! There were three marine reptiles involved in this study: one was an extinct species of leatherback sea turtle, an agile dolphin-like reptile known as an ichthyosaur, and (my favorite of the three) a colossal sea-going lizard called the mosasaur. Mosasaurs looked a lot like a cross between a monitor lizard, a whale and a great white shark; some mosasaurs grew 40-50 feet in length!

New research has shown that at least one species of mosasaur (bottom) and an extinct species of leatherback sea turtle (top) were black with lighter colored underbellies, while at least one species of ichthyosaur was completely black.
The coloration of most extinct creatures has been a mystery since coloration doesn't (normally) appear in fossils. So pretty much since we dug up the first fossils of extinct creatures, scientists and others have had to make educated guesses as to what colors they were. However, this all changed a few years back; a few months ago, I wrote an article concerning the discovery of melanosomes (those are special cells which contain the color pigment in both animals and humans) that could be seen with a microscope on the fossils of some dinosaurs and extinct birds. It turns out that scientists can look at the size and shape of the melanosomes and the distance between the melanosomes to determine the coloration of some creatures! Now, this same science is being used to color other extinct creatures – this time creatures of the sea!

So how did the scientists determine the creatures' color? Well, first they wanted to see whether or not the microscopic objects in question were really melanosomes or from the result microbial contamination. What they did was use a special technique known as “energy-dispersive X-ray microanalysis”. In other words, they used an X-ray to test how the sample of the specimen reacted. The scientists learned that the objects in question were in fact associated with preserved skin film that was found on the three fossilized creatures and not something else. Thanks to this information, the scientists began looking closely at the melanosomes of the three animals (which were oval-shaped, by the way) to determine their distance apart from each other.

Despite its appearance, ichthyosaurs, like this Ichthyosaurus, were not fish, but reptiles.
The study revealed that the leatherback sea turtle was – like the modern leatherback sea turtle – was probably mostly blackish on the upper regions of its body with a paler underbelly. They found this to be true with the mosasaur as well! The ichthyosaur was a different story – instead of being blackish on the top and whitish on the bottom, it seemed to be all blackish colored! (This study doesn't mean however that all species of mosasaurs or ichthyosaurs were these colors) Why did all three of the animals have black on their bodies? Was it just coincidence? And what was the purpose of the black coloration anyway?

Prognathodon was one of the many species of mosasaurs.

Well, we can't say for sure, but scientists can make some educated guesses by looking at modern animals. You might have noticed that mosasaurs and the extinct species of leatherback sea turtle have a similar coloration to a wide variety of modern sea animals; killer whales, great white sharks, modern leatherbacks, penguins, dolphins and many others have a darker coloration on the top portions of their bodies and lighter portions on the bottom portion. It turns out that this form of coloration can be very helpful to marine animals, both living and extinct.

Penguins and many other animals have black or dark-colored tops and paler undersides.
Modern leatherbacks' backs can become quite hot when exposed to the sun. This is helpful since the turtle is a cold-blooded reptile that needs to stay warm in order to move its body around, and that's not easy for the leatherback because these widespread reptiles often can be found living within the chilly waters of the arctic circle! Darker colors – black in this case – attract more heat than lighter colors, so therefore black coloration warms up the turtle more than a lighter color would. While the extinct species of leatherback was coldblooded, we have no idea whether mosasaurs and ichthyosaurs were or not. However, even a warmblooded animal can find black pigmentation on the top useful.

The leatherback sea turtle of today has the same coloration as its extinct relative.
While mosasaurs use could swim at high speeds (probably as fast as 30mph) using their powerful tail flukes, they couldn't keep up the high speed for long. So instead of chasing prey over long distances, when mosasaurs found prey nearby, they probably stalked them like great white sharks do today, far below their prey (mosasaurs ate pretty much anything they could catch – fish, sharks, plesiosaurs, sea birds, turtles and even other mosasaurs). Then when the moment was right, the mosasaur would probably undulate its tail fluke to launch itself upward and catch the prey in its five-foot, toothy jaws. The black coloration of mosasaurs was probably used a lot like modern predators: while stalking their prey, the black coloration would help them blend in with the depths so that prey won't notice them above. And from above, the lighter colored underbelly would make a mosasaur or sea turtle hard to see because the lighter color breaks up its outline. Cool, huh? While the turtle wouldn't be stalking fast-moving prey, its coloration would probably be helpful in staying out of sight from hungry predators. This is important because unlike most sea turtles, the shells of leatherbacks aren't made of hard shell, but rather are constructed of bony struts under the skin, making the shell much easier to bite into.

Mosasaurs, such as the 50-foot Tylosaurus, could have used their coloration to remain concealed from prey until the attack!
What about ichthyosaurs? Why was the one involved in the study completely black? Well, long before the coloration of the creature was discovered, scientists suspected that ichthyosaurs would often hunt deep underwater because of their large eyes. One species of ichthyosaur, Opthalmosaurus, has some of the largest eyeballs of any animal in proportion to body size at four inches across! Their large eyes would help them see both prey and predators in the darkness of the water. If the species of ichthyosaur involved in this study was a deep-diving creature, a lighter colored underbelly like the mosasaur had would possibly give its presence away. But with an all-dark body, an ichthyosaur has a lesser chance of getting detected. The modern sperm whale bears similar coloration to this ichthyosaur – dark colors all over the body – for this exact reason.

Opthalmosaurus had some of the largest eyes in proportion to its body size of any creature.
All three of these amazing reptiles we looked at seem to be beautifully designed for marine life, even down to the color of their skin. Evolutionists are often puzzled why some animals bear similarities to other animals if they just evolved. In fact, some evolutionists have questioned whether or not the fact that the animals involved in the study mentioned above had black coloration because of mere coincidence. But how likely is that? I mean, this isn't the only “coincidence” in nature; there are many animals with features similar to other unrelated animals. For instance, four kinds of animals are capable of powered flight: birds, bats, pterosaurs and insects, and evolutionary scientists believe that the power of flight evolved four different times! And it's the same thing with the three marine reptiles mentioned earlier. How likely would it be that creatures would be similar to other creatures in this way?

The fact that many animals are often designed with features similar to other unrelated animals should actually point us to the One who created these amazing animals. Its way more believable that these animals have similarities with other animals because they have the same Designer. By looking in the first chapter of the book of Genesis, we learn that God created mosasaurs, sea turtles and ichthyosaurs on the Fifth Day of the creation week, no more than 6,000 years ago. Isn't it wonderful that God designed these creatures to thrive in the environments He placed them in? So the next time you see an animal that has similarities with another unrelated animal, sit back and think about all the thought God placed into making both of them and praise Him for that.

God provided many ways for the creatures He made to thrive in the environments they lived in.
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