*Credit: Photo © Gabrielle Lyon, courtesy Project Exploration
Science has always been my passion. As a young kid I would capture and observe small animals from the stream in our back yard. Lightning, tornadoes and other natural phenomena fascinated me; I put pictures of extreme weather on my walls and tried, with no luck, to go on a tornado chase for my fifteenth birthday. I told my parents, all throughout my childhood, that I wanted to be a paleontologist.
So I often wonder why I majored in writing and not in a science. And the answer is actually very simple: I was scared. Science is intimidating. It's an arena where everyone is trying to prove you wrong. It's not static. It's dominated by some of the most brilliant minds. It's a field that requires a certain kind of thinking.
I was afraid of science. I was afraid of being proven wrong, of asking the wrong questions. And sometimes I still am. So I have a question. One that may have a painfully obvious answer to some of you. I've been afraid to ask it, but I also want to be a good scientist, and I figure asking questions is the best way to become a good scientist. So here goes...
Nigersaurus had a very pneumatic vertebrae, which made the skeleton quite light (relatively). But Nigersaurus was also very small (also relatively!). So the question (not mine) is, "Why did a small sauropod need a light skeleton?"
My question is, could it be a form of protection? If Nigersaurus was small compared to most sauropods, and most sauropods got their protection from their size alone, would a lighter skeleton allow for a faster sauropod? One that would not have a size advantage?
And that leads me to more questions, as follows:
- In general, are lighter-boned animals faster than animals with dense bones?
- Is bone density related to muscle size? I'm assuming that small bones have small muscle attachment sites and than light bones can only handle a certain amount of stress caused by muscle contraction.
- Would a small sauropod be fast enough to outrun a carnivorous therapod?
- If not faster, what sort of adaptations would a small sauropod have for defense?
Anyway, I hope that doing this will help me get over my fear of asking questions and maybe stimulate some good conversation. I'm always afraid to ask questions like this, but really, what do I have to lose?
Sereno, P. C., Wilson, J. A., Witmer, L. M., Whitlock, J. A., Maga, A., Ide, O. & Rowe, T. A. (2007). Structural extremes in a Cretaceous dinosaur. PLoS One (11): published online.