Re: Feathered Dragons

A change of pace from my usual light reading, Feathered Dragons, edited by Philip J. Currie and others, is a collection of papers about the transition from dinosaurs to birds. After an introduction by Robert T. Bakker, the first section is a broad overview. In the second section are several studies of fossils and tracks, most importantly a detailed descriptions of every bone in Bambiraptor feinbergii. The third section is the part I was interested in: how they might have lived.

There were three papers that most sparked my imagination. The first is about dinosaur eggs and draws a vivid picture of Troodon formosus laying clutches of eggs in pairs, two eggs each day. Comparing them to living birds like ostriches, turkeys, or geese, it surmises that the eggs didn’t develop until the mother settled in to brood on them, raising their temperature from ambient to body temperature. Then the whole clutch would have hatched at once into precocial, self-feeding, and nest-fleeing chicks, that followed mom around like ducklings. Toothy, fast, hungry ducklings.

The second is an intriguing paper suggesting that feathers could have first evolved as flexible, expandable covers for brooding. There are fossils of nesting oviraptors with the forelimbs over the eggs, that make more sense if they had long feathers to cover those eggs. Similarly, living birds hang open their wings and tail over their eggs and chicks in various postures.

The third is by far the most readable, an almost chatty paper called “Dinosaur Crime Scene Investigations” by Bakker and Gary Bir. They aimed to avoid “Olson’s Nightmare” which is the problem that animals don’t die and become fossils in the places where they lived, by using the “boring” bits: shed teeth to get evidence of what the dinosaurs did when they were alive and eating prey. It draws detailed scenes of crocodiloids lurking in the rivers and extended families of allosaurs feeding on migrating herbivores part of the year and on aquatic prey once the herds had passed. And yes, it includes the trademark Bakker drawings.

Aside from these three papers are also papers going into more detail about the structure of eggs, of how flight more likely originated in the trees, a full examination of the feathers of Archaeopteryx and more.