New Fossil From The Dawn Of Dinosaurs

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Reporting in the journal Science, Paul Sereno, Ricardo Martinez and colleagues describe Eodromaeus murphi. This dinosaur was 4 feet long, weighed 15 pounds and lived 230 million years ago, just a few million years after dinosaurs first evolved.

IRA FLATOW, host:

I'm Ira Flatow. This is SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR.

Joining us now is, hey, Flora Lichtman, our Video Pick of the Week. Welcome back.

FLORA LICHTMAN: Thank you, Ira.

FLATOW: Good to see you.

LICHTMAN: Good to see you too.

FLATOW: What do you got for us?

LICHTMAN: Let's see. It's good. Winter doldrums?

FLATOW: Always good.

LICHTMAN: Especially, I think.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LICHTMAN: I think this is good for curing the winter doldrums, a new fossil find.

FLATOW: Hey.

LICHTMAN: There's a new dinosaur on the scene.

FLATOW: I don't have the bell or the drums or anything to...

LICHTMAN: People can do it in their minds.

FLATOW: There you go. Ring. Okay.

LICHTMAN: So you know how dinosaurs, whenever there's a new dino find, it always seems like they have kind of a shtick. Like, oh, this dino has a lot of teeth. It has giant toes.

FLATOW: Right.

LICHTMAN: It's humpback. Literally, there was a recent humpback dinosaur found...

FLATOW: Mm-hmm.

LICHTMAN: ...and this dinosaur has no shtick.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: It's not the biggest? It's not the smallest? It's...

LICHTMAN: It's Plain Jane.

FLATOW: Plain Jane. Is that its actually name, Plain...

LICHTMAN: No. It's actually name is Eodromaeus.

FLATOW: We could make it that name if we want.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LICHTMAN: I think I refer to it in the video. It actually...

FLATOW: Right.

LICHTMAN: ...that is what excites Paul Sereno, who's a paleontologist who's one of its discoverers. And he is excited that it doesn't have special features, because he's interested in finding the dinosaur from which all other dinosaurs descended. The dino Eve...

FLATOW: The dino Eve.

LICHTMAN: ....what he is what he...

FLATOW: The sort of the earliest dinosaur.

LICHTMAN: And this is a very ancient dinosaur. It walked 230 million years ago.

FLATOW: That is (unintelligible) right near the beginning.

LICHTMAN: Right at the dawn of dinosaur evolution.

FLATOW: Yeah.

LICHTMAN: And so the fact that this dinosaur sort of doesn't have special features puts it helps flush out this picture of dino Eve. What it shares in common with its contemporaries of that time kind of gives you a sense of what the first dinosaur looked like.

FLATOW: So it's sort of a vanilla dinosaur.

LICHTMAN: Yeah, but...

FLATOW: How big is it? Gives us a little idea. If you go to our SCIENCE FRIDAY Video Pick of the Week, go to sciencefriday.com, go to our video section there on the left, Flora's Video Pick of the Week, you can watch the video about this dinosaur. And how you say, it's...

LICHTMAN: And I don't know that he would call it a vanilla dinosaur.

FLATOW: It's nondescript.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LICHTMAN: But he did say that they were excited about not having special features. So it's about four feet long...

FLATOW: Right.

LICHTMAN: ...15 pounds about, so it's small.

FLATOW: Big chicken.

LICHTMAN: Yeah. I mean...

FLATOW: A turkey.

LICHTMAN: ...you see the skull and his hands in the video and it, you know, the skull fits in both of his hands, easily.

FLATOW: Right.

LICHTMAN: The one thing that it sort of does have to distinguish itself is this long canine these long canine teeth.

FLATOW: Right.

LICHTMAN: And this suggests that actually it's already on the branch that leads to the mighty dinosaur predators like T-Rex. So this is sort of the very beginning of...

FLATOW: Tens of millions of years later.

LICHTMAN: Right.

FLATOW: It started out with this one. It has no special features but that's why, as you say, scientists are eager to study it.

LICHTMAN: And one of the things that was interesting to them is that, you know, there are a lot of dinosaurs at this - or there are a few at this beginning point, but it takes 30 million years for dinosaurs to sort of become the world leaders.

FLATOW: Right.

LICHTMAN: And so one of the things that's interesting to Sereno and his colleagues, you know, how did that happen? What are these sort of beginning features that allow dinosaurs to take over? And why does it take so long?

FLATOW: Yeah. And where did...

LICHTMAN: Get moving.

FLATOW: Where did he find it? Where did he find this dinosaur?

LICHTMAN: It's in a valley in Argentina, and he's been working there for 20 years and it was where he found his first dinosaur. And he said it's...

FLATOW: Sentimental, yeah.

LICHTMAN: He has some sentimental attachment, it sounds like to me.

FLATOW: Yeah.

LICHTMAN: And he said that it's really one of the only it's the only place that offers a window into this time period.

FLATOW: Well, if you'd like to see that window yourself...

LICHTMAN: Yeah.

FLATOW: ...we invite you to go to our website at sciencefriday.com and see Flora's Video Pick of the Week, with extra added animation.

LICHTMAN: Some added bonus animation...

FLATOW: Bonus.

LICHTMAN: ...because those dinosaurs aren't moving that fast today.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: That's right. Bonus animation as only Flora can do it. Our Video Pick of the Week up there at sciencefriday.com, on the left side. Good to see you as always, Flora.

LICHTMAN: Thanks, Ira.

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