Thursday, February 11, 2016

Love in the Time of the Dinosaurs

Hey, everyone! Sorry for being late with this post, but I've had yet another busy week. I think the busyness period is mostly over, so I should be able to post weekly now. Anyway...Valentines Day is right around the corner! The good news is that I have the perfect article for the occasion...I mean, even dinosaurs need a little love in their lives, right?

Days Till
It is: 1 day till President's Day
It is: 3 days till Valentine's Day
It is: 35 days till St. Patrick's Day
It is: 50 days till April Fool's Day

In the Spotlight:
About a month or so ago, I talked about the band Girl and the Dreamcatcher's, featuring Dove Cameron and Ryan Mccartan, previously-latest songs. Well, as of one or two weeks ago, they released a new song called Glowing in the Dark. It's a little sad, but it sounds awesome. Check it out:

Topic of the Week by Christian Ryan
Warning: The topic in this article is intended for adults and teens, not young children. You will find no inappropriate pictures of dinosaur sexuality (no private parts!), crude comments or adult jokes about certain body parts here, but the content is frank and not appropriate for younger audiences.

We know the height, length and diet of huge dinosaurs like Giraffatitan...but how did this 50-ton beast reproduce? By Axel Mauruszat - Own work

Valentine's Day is in just a couple of days. Couples show their affection for each other in various ways. However, love isn't just for humans, and it certainly isn't new. Every year, all animals must reproduce, and this was true with dinosaurs as well. How did dinosaurs attract members of the opposite sex, mate and reproduce?

What color were the dinosaurs? What was the biggest dinosaur? How did they go extinct? These are the types of questions most people ask about dinosaurs. Very few spare a thought for questions like: how did dinosaurs attract a mate? How did dinosaurs mate with all those spines, scutes, spikes and long tails? Since they relate to the behavior of dinosaurs, they are much harder to answer. However, fossils still give us clues that allow us to hypothesize how dinosaurs reproduced after their own kind, as God commanded them in Genesis 1:24.

♂ or ♀
How did dinosaurs, like T. rex, tell each other apart? By user:Eqdoktor - Own work, CC BY 3.0

Before we get into how dinosaurs reproduced, perhaps we need to figure out how on earth we tell the difference between a male and a female dinosaur. The answer is: we don't know for sure. Today, animals of different sexes are often visually different: for example, male lions have manes, deer have antlers (exception: reindeer, as both sexes have antlers), peacocks have that elaborate tail and roosters are larger and have a larger comb (that's the fleshy organ on top of their heads) than the females. This is called sexual dimorphism. As most evidences of sexual dimorphism would have been fleshy, and dinosaurs are mostly known of by the fossils we find of them, we can't really know for sure which ones are males or females. But this hasn't stopped scientists from trying to figure it out.

While male lions have manes, lionesses lack them. By Prabir K Bhattacharyya - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
However, paleontologists have noticed that some dinosaur species come in two different morphs, or versions. A gracile version and a robust version. Maybe these represent different genders, but without finding a fossilized genitalia, it's hard to say which is which. Scientists once thought that they could tell the sex of a Tyrannosaurus by examining the absence of a chevron (a bone that protrudes downward from the tail vertebrae) between the first and second caudal vertebra in robust Tyrannosaurus. This was thought to be the case in female crocodiles, indicating that robust tyrannosaurs were females. But recently, scientists have discovered that this doesn't always hold true in crocodiles, rendering this piece of evidence as weak.

Is it impossible then, to sex a dinosaur? It once was. But inside the leg of a tyrannosaur specimen called B-rex, Dr. Mary Schweitzer identified finding medullary bone. Medullary bone is known to form in the bones of female birds when they are just about to ovulate so that they are able to store up calcium for their developing eggs. Finding medullary bone proved that B-rex was a female. B-rex was also gracile morph, indicating that perhaps the gracile morphs were females and the robust morphs were males. Another attempt to tell dinosaur genders apart occurred in a study published in 2015. A master's student of the University of Bristol named Evan Saitta took notice of the two morphs of a species of Stegosaurus called S. mjosi. One of the morphs had oval-shaped plates, while the other had narrow plates. Saitta hypothesized that the oval-plated morph represented the males of this species since they would have been the largest of the two plate types and therefore might have been used to attract females. Other scientists aren't yet convinced that this is the case, but the possibility remains open.

Scientists might be able to tell the difference between male and female Stegosaurus mjosi by looking at their plates. Photo: Evan Saitta
Sexual dimorphism was almost certainly present in dinosaurs. How sexual dimorphism was exhibited in these creatures – whether it be that one gender grew larger than the other, different crest, frill or horn shapes, different scent and definitely their genitalia – is still unknown. However, that doesn't prevent us from coming up with intriguing possibilities.

Getting Her Attention
Dilophosaurus' head crest was probably brightly-colored. This would have helped the males of this species to attract mates.
With a few rare exceptions, in the animal kingdom, it is the male's job to attract a female with which to mate. Modern animals have a wide array of features and methods to get the job done. Some animals use a visual display approach; the frigate bird is an example of this. When a female frigate bird flies overhead, the males of the species inflate a red-colored throat sac and call out, hoping the female will take notice. Deer on the other hand flaunt their branch-like antlers. Other animals use sound to attract a mate. Male alligators will make deep bellowing sounds during the mating season at the surface of the water, causing water droplets to literally “sprinkle” or “dance” on their backs. Could dinosaurs use similar tactics?

Look at the dewlap (that fleshy appendage hanging from the bottom of the head) on this iguana. Dinosaurs may have had similar fleshy appendages as well, but we don't know for sure (exception: Edmontosaurus regilis). By Eric Kilby from Somerville, MA, USA - Iguana Closeup, CC BY-SA 2.0,
While the colors of most dinosaurs are a mystery, the species found with melanosomes (cells responsible for producing color), including Sinosauropteryx, seem to have been very colorful animals. Sinosauropteryx was reddish-orange in color and had ginger-stripes on its tail. Maybe male Sinosauropteryx could show off their tails to impress potential mates.

Most fleshy appendages dinosaurs may have had to woo mates, if they had them, would have rotted away, but what didn't decay with time are the plates, spikes, horns and frills displayed on some species of dinosaurs. Initially, these features like the crests of hadrosaurs such as Corythosaurus, the frill and horns of ceratopsians like Chasmosaurus and the crest-like horns adorning Ceratosaurus' head were believed to be strictly weapons for combat. However, features like these were often too fragile to be used for fighting; instead, they were likely brightly colored and used for display. In fact, paleontologists have noticed ceratopsian frills and stegosaur plates would have been loaded with blood vessels in life. This could mean these dinosaurs could flush their frills and plates with blood, making them turn red. Wouldn't that impress the ladies? Remember when I said most fleshy appendages dinosaurs may have had rotted away after the animal died? Well, a few years back, scientists discovered that a duckbilled hadrosaur, called Edmontosaurus regillis, had a crest made of flesh rather than bone as in most hadrosaurs. This was probably brightly colored. What other fleshy appendages may dinosaurs have had?

Edmontosaurus had a fleshy crest on its head for display.
After attracting a mate, modern animals often conduct elaborate dances as a form of courtship. Since behavior generally doesn't fossilize, we can only speculate as to what dinosaurs may have done.

Love in the Time of the Dinosaurs
Now for the million-dollar question: how did T. rex mate? By Usuario:NeGRa - Tomada por Noemy García García usando una cámara Nikon E3200., CC BY-SA 2.5 es,
It's time for dinosaur reproduction 101! How did dinosaurs mate? This is a question that has kept paleontologists awake at night for centuries. I mean, it's not easy to envision a 75-ton Argentinosaurus or a plate-backed Stegosaurus getting into a comfortable position to mate.

This question of dinosaur reproduction is made even trickier by the lack of a fossilized genitalia. However, if modern reptiles are any indication, we can get a significant clue about what their genitals were like. Like modern reptiles, dinosaurs had a cloaca. This was a slit in the base of the tail through which waste would exit the body and where sexual organs resided. Unlike (unfortunate) male mammals, the testicles and penis of male dinosaurs would have been inside the body. The penis would have only protruded when the animal was ready to mate with a female. And how big were these genitals on the biggest sauropods? Of course, we can't know for sure, but scientists speculate that those of sauropods could have been over 12 feet long! Like the cloaca of a female reptile today, the cloaca of a female dinosaur would have also functioned as the vagina.
Tyrannosaurus might have also used its tiny, but strong, arms to cling to its mate during copulation. By No machine-readable author provided. Fastfission~commonswiki assumed (based on copyright claims). - No machine-readable source provided. Own work assumed (based on copyright claims)., CC BY-SA 3.0,
How would female sauropods hold the tremendous weight of their partner? Surely, their Creator must have designed their backbones to be strengthened to cope with the weight of the male. How did other dinosaurs mate? Well, in order to deal with the lengthy tails, one way paleontologists think dinosaurs like T. rex and Triceratops might have mated by mounting the female along the side the equivalent of her rump. This way, the lengthy, likely prehensile, penis could maneuver underneath the female, find the cloaca, and insert sperm.

Sauropods, like these titanosaurs, must have had a strong skeleton to support the weight of the mating partner. PHOTO CREDIT

What about stegosaurs? While some members of the family, like Stegosaurus had plates on its back, some stegosaurs like Kentrosaurus had spikes instead! This must have made things especially difficult for the male. Instead of mounting the female in traditional dinosaur fashion, Kentrosaurus males may have allowed the female to lay down on her side. This would make it possible for the male to rear up and rest his torso over her hindquarters.
How did these spiky-tailed Kentrosaurus mate? With GREAT care!

We don't know for sure how dinosaurs reproduced, but we know they must have done so...somehow!

What Happens Next?
What happened after mating? Who can say? Did the male T. rex stick beside his mate to protect her from rivals and help rear her young? Did sauropods split up after mating like many modern herd animals? We just don't know. With a little help from new technology and new fossil discoveries, we can hope that one day, the truth about dinosaur reproduction will finally be revealed for our curious minds.
Maybe it wasn't convenient, but dinosaurs needed to reproduce to propagate their species. Jose Antonio Penas/Science Photo Library

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Rerun Article: The Wonders of Snow

January is ending fast. Before you know it, it'll be February and then Spring will be in the air! Where does the time go? I don't have much to share today in regards to news, so I'll display our usual "Days Till" section, breeze through "In the Spotlight" and get into today's topic.

Days Till
It is: 13 days till Groundhog Day
It is: 23 days till Abraham Lincoln's Birthday
It is: 25 days till Valentine's Day
It is: 44 days till Zootopia's theatrical release

In the Spotlight
Since it's coming out really soon, I thought I'd showcase the latest trailer for Zootopia, coming out on March 4th:

Can't wait for this movie!!!

Topic of the Week
It's used to build snowmen out of, it's used in snowball fights, we shovel it from our sidewalks and driveways, and causes many car-related accidents each year. I'm talking about snow! It's quite literally everywhere in the more northern parts of the northern hemisphere during the winter months. But even though we all know what snow is, many don't know and haven't even thought about how it forms, why it falls, the conditions in which snow falls and many other things. So today, since it's still very snowy in many parts of the world during this time of year, these are just some of the things we're going to learn about.

Snowmen is one of the most common uses for snow.
So what exactly is snow? Well, your typical answer would be something like “that white, fluffy stuff on the ground that falls from the sky during winter time”, and your typical school kid's answer would be something like “that white, fluffy stuff on the ground that falls from the sky that delivers us from the bondage of school!” In all seriousness though, snow is actually precipitation in the form of crystalline iced water. Snow's origins (there's a topic you don't hear everyday!) are not known to well; we have no idea if snow ever was present in the world before the Genesis Flood around 4,350 years ago, but based on geological finds, we believe that if it ever did fall, it wasn't very often and the temperature of the pre-Flood world wasn't all that cold. What sorts of geological finds am I talking about? Well, one prime example is the findings of fossilized trees in what are today known as the polar regions. These trees are not only the ones you'd find in the tropics today, but they also lack frost rings, meaning if it did ever get freezing, it wasn't often, if ever.

Snow started falling in great bunches after the climax of the Genesis Flood. Thanks to the warm temperature of the oceans (which were made warm by the volcanic activity during the Flood), much water was evaporated and clouds formed. It is important to know that the land after the Flood was relatively cold in many places, so when it was time for the clouds to drop their loads, it fell down as snow in some places . . . lots of snow! The snow built up so much after several hundred years had past, the snow had turned to ice that covered much of the Northern hemisphere in great sheets known as glaciers. We call this period of time following the Flood “the Ice Age”. The glaciers eventually disappeared at the end of the Ice Age, about 700 years following the Flood.

How exactly is snow formed? Contrary to popular belief, snow isn't merely frozen water – that's ice. The actual formation of snow takes place when a drop of really cold water (and I do mean really cold!) freezes onto a tiny particle of dust or pollen and crystallizes. This “ice crystal” then proceeds to fall to the ground from the clouds and water vapor freezes to the primary crystal, causing it to reshape itself into the six-armed snowflakes we all know and love. (Keep that in mind the next time you try to catch snowflakes on your tongue).

Snowflakes are so beautiful! Did you know that no two snowflakes look alike?
So now that we now how it's caused, what needs to take place in order for snowfall to take place? The most obvious thing is that it needs to be cold, otherwise when the “snow” falls, it will quickly melt into water and the water vapor crystal can't freeze to the original ice crystal. The temperature But there's another key thing: the ice crystals have to be heavy enough to drop from the clouds. Once heavy enough, gravity does its job of pulling the snowflake down to earth where bunches of little snowflakes add up . . . often times very fast!

Even though snow causes many fatal vehicle accidents each year, there are some positive things that snow does for us. First of all, many people have fun sledding, snowboarding and skiing when there's enough snow on the ground. Sleighs and sleds pulled by horses, dogs or other animals are also a fun winter activity that many enjoy. Snow is also used in other outdoor activities such as building snowmen, having snowball fights and making snow angels.

Did you know that snow can also be beneficial to agriculture? Did you ever notice when it's snowing how it seems warmer out during winter? That's because when a layer of snow falls, it can keep the heat of the earth and protect precious crops from freezing cold winter chills. And when the snow melts and refreezes on sensitive crops such as oranges, it can protect them from those colder days during the winter. There's also another added bonus when snow melts: the water released from melting snow waters the crops.

Now you know all about snow – it's formation, the conditions in which it needs to fall and even a little bit about how important it can be to agriculture! Let's thank God for allowing us to enjoy this wonder of nature that He's allowed to happen for our enjoyment!

Disclaimer: The images used in this blog's posts are found from different sources all over the Internet, and are assumed to be in public domain and are displayed under the fair use principle. If you are the owner of the images and you believe that their use on this site is in violation of any copyright law, then please contact me at my email, and I will get back to you as soon as possible to resolve the issue.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Rerun Article: Polly Want Lamb Chops?

Happy 2016, everyone! Sorry that this post is late, my grandmother died at the old age of 95 this past week and I didn't have an opportunity to post. While we'll miss her dearly, I am glad that she is a Christian, so she's in heaven now with Jesus. Hallelujah!

In addition to this news, I have finally seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens! It was so awesome! The story was great (a rare thing for sequels) and so were the special effects. The only part I didn't like was when ___________ died. (I'm not gonna spoil it for those of you who haven't seen it, but I'm sure those of you who have seen the movie know who I'm talking about.). Let's get started with our first article of the new year!

Days Till
It is: 25 days till Martin Luther King Jr. Day
It is: 18 days till Groundhog Day
It is: Valentine's Day

In the Spotlight:
Not much to share this week, except my love for the new Star Wars movie! However, I recently found out about a new Disney movie coming to theaters on March 4. It's called Zootopia. The trailers for this film were hilarious! Basically, Zootopia takes place in an alternate universe where mammals are anthropomorphic -- they live like people, wear clothes (well, most of them do), own shops and restaurants and things like that. If you haven't heard of this movie, you need to check it out. See the trailer for it below, featuring the main characters trying to obtain some information from the DMV. There's one tiny problem though: everyone working at the DMV is a sloth!
Topic of the Week by Christian Ryan
People just love birds. One of everyone’s favorite types is no doubt the parrot. Parrots are very smart birds. We can train them to talk and recent tests even prove that at least some parrots actually know what they’re saying instead of just calling out words! God made these birds for us to enjoy. Parrots come in a wide range of sizes, from small Budgerigars to the giant Kakapo. Haven’t heard of the Kakapo? Well, it’s this large green parrot that lives on New Zealand. It’s not very parrot-like at all; it can’t fly! Most parrots, as we all know, can fly very well. We often like to have them sit on our shoulders, especially pirates. But one species of parrot is bound to surprise you.
A Kea sitting on a rock.

This Kea Parrot is about to land on a white car. As you can see, the undersides of its wings are a beautiful orange color.
It’s called the Kea, a small green parrot (about 19 inches long) living in New Zealand. Most parrot species are loved by millions, but not the Kea. It denies normal parrot behavior and is rather . . . “mischievous”. First of all, it likes to live in urban areas where they will tip over trash cans, break car windows, invade camping sites, and play with windshield wipers to the point of breaking them! (So they’re sort of like foxes on the wing) Another thing that makes this parrot unique is that instead of living in the lush tropical forests, it lives in the snow on the alpine slopes. Keas are the only parrots known to live in this kind of habitat.

But probably the most surprising thing about the Kea is that instead of asking it, “Polly want a cracker?” you may want to ask, “Polly want a lamb chops?” This parrot will eat fruit, but lately, they've decided to go . . . no . . . it couldn’t be . . . could these guys be turning . . . CARNIVOROUS?!? Strange but true, in the spring, summer and fall, they normally eat daisies, berries and other fruits, nectar, pollen, insects and etc. But Keas have been seen actually eating not only stuff from trash cans (which is why they tip them over in the first place), but they also will eat carrion. In winter, these foods are harder to find. The rampage began in the 1800’s when people introduced sheep to New Zealand and the Keas started to eat carrion of dead sheep. Then they really went on the rampage! Keas are believed to have actually killed 200 or so sheep in a single night (in 1884) and 15,000 sheep in a season in. Just when you saw some animals appeared to be giving meat up like the lions did in a post I wrote a couple of weeks ago, another animal switches onto meat.
How on earth do they kill sheep anyway? Well, they fly over to the sheep and start pecking at sores and I’d assume the sheep eventually died of shock and blood loss. Four main theories arose as to why the Kea transformed almost overnight to be a sheep-killer:
A Kea damaging a car.
  1. They just switched from eating insects to eating sheep
  2. There were maggots in the carrion they were eating so this is when they developed a taste for meat.
  3. The Vegetable Sheep theory is: Keas thought the sheep were plants when they were lying down so they just accidentally ate a sheep and thought, “Hey, this tastes pretty good! We should do this more often!”
  4. The bird’s diet changed because of theory adaptability, intelligence, curiosity and mischievousness

The last theory I mentioned is the one most scientists believe is most likely. Many scientists believe they also used to feast on Moa carrion too (Moas are giant birds that went extinct a few hundred years ago). Boy, I’m sure glad these birds don’t prey on people! If they did, we’d all be in big trouble no doubt! Because of their sheep-hunting behavior, the Kea was hunted and actually became endangered. The good news is, this bird received full protection in 1986.

Fortunately for all sheep-kind, Kea predations on livestock have gone down drastically. They are getting rarer and rarer over the past few years. However, occasional Kea attacks on sheep are still being reported, and most of these attacks are on sheep that are old, weak or sick (but some people sometimes will find healthy sheep with Kea wounds). So it seems as though the Kea is finally calming down . . . at least for the moment . . .

But don’t you start thinking this is the end of it! Kea’s aren’t the only so-called herbivores that weren’t told they are supposed to eat plants! A farmer in India lost 48 of his chickens. He suspected some dogs had done the deed, so he and his brother went out one night to catch the culprit. Boy were they in for a surprise when they saw his cow named Lal sneak into the chicken coop and started to grab and eat the chickens! How shocking in deed. So it turns out those cows promoting Chick-Fil-A aren’t only promoting the business, they’re also eating at the business!

Another example would be the was when someone took a trip to Kangaroo Island in Australia, the person dropped a BBQ steak sandwich. Then two grey kangaroos came in and devoured the sandwich, bread, meat and all.

In 1992, a wild Panda Bear killed and ate 26 goats before being captured and studied. In 2002, a British researcher got quite a shock when she saw a sheep snatch an oblivious grouse and devoured it whole! 

Another sheep was seen gobbling up nine chickens. There’s even a horse that actually will chase down chickens and eat them whole. And believe it or not, when a film crew was filming a migration of Wildebeest in Africa, they were migrating through a river where our “friendly” hippos live. Some wildebeest were killed by crocodiles who also inhabit the river, but before some of the crocodiles could eat, hippos came in and started eating the carcass!

Should I go on? Just as many carnivorous animals will have a vegetarian diet, many animals have become carnivorous herbivores. This, as horrifying as it may be, is a reminder to us that all animals were originally designed to eat plants as it says in Genesis. But after the first people rebelled against God, animals could go either ways. Most chose to go herbivorous because that was what their bodies were most designed for, but others chose to become carnivorous. Of course though, as we just learned, animals can change their diets. Fortunately most animals tend to stick with the diets that best suits their bodies (for instance, while horses can eat chickens, they must have a hard time tearing the bird apart with those dull teeth). Most animals probably would get sick if they tried to eat food that doesn’t suit their body. However, even in this fallen world we live in, God has promised us to one day, restore His beautiful creation.

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