Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Living Dinosaurs of Northern Chile - Part 3

I feel that it is time to wrap-up my series of articles about the living dinosaurs seen in northern Chile. After doing some more research, I have modified my hypothesis about what these creatures are, and where they came from.
I no longer feel that it is very likely for any non-avian dinosaurs to have survived to the modern-day. Therefore, I have now modified my theory in order to accommodate this.

I now think that these cryptids probably represent an undiscovered species of large, flightless bird with a long tail, arms with claws, and tooth-like structures in its beak. At first, this idea might appear far-fetched, but a close examination of some extant and recently-extinct bird species shows that it really is not that weird after all.

I will start with the Hoatzin. The juveniles of this strange South American bird have claws on their wings, which they use to climb trees. However, when they grow up, these clawed fingers disappear. This proves that it is, indeed, possible for birds to evolve hands with clawed fingers, just like their non-avian dinosaur ancestors.
Second, a recently-extinct bird from New Caledonia called Sylviornis had a huge number of caudal vertebrae compared to other birds. This caused its tail to be much longer than that of the average bird. In fact, it kind of resembled the tail of an extinct theropod dinosaur.
And third, there is a living species of duck called the Common Merganser. This species of waterfowl is unique because it has evolved a very fascinating feature; it has evolved tooth-like structures in its beak, which it uses to catch its prey (mainly fish).  The Merganser is living proof that birds have the ability to re-evolve tooth-like structures.

I have now established that it is, indeed, possible for an aberrant species of bird to evolve a longer tail, clawed wings, and teeth-like structures. Such a creature would hardly even be distinguishable from a long-gone theropod dinosaur. Therefore, witnesses could easily mistake it as such.

I now conclude my 3-part series about the living dinosaurs of northern Chile. I have now modified my hypothesis. I now believe that these creatures are probably dinosaur-like flightless birds.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Living Sauropods

In several of the world's rainforests, many reports and rumors have emerged of creatures which, at first glance, bear a striking resemblance to the sauropod dinosaurs of prehistory. These reports come from several different areas, including the Congo rainforests of central Africa, the Amazon rainforests of South America, and the rainforests of Southern Asia. The vast majority of the sightings have come from central Africa. The creature living there is called the mokele-mbembe, a native term which means "the one who stops the flow of rivers".
According to conventional wisdom, the last of these great creatures died out around 64 million years ago. However, several cryptozoologists are convinced that at least some of these gigantic dinosaurs survived the mass extinction event at the end of the Cretaceous period, and still survive to the present-day. Today, I am going to examine this hypothesis, and evaluate just how likely it is.

Many proponents of the sauropod hypothesis claim that the areas where these creatures are most-frequently sighted, such as the Congo rainforests in Africa, have remained stable for millions of years, without major environmental changes. However, what I have found is that some research will reveal that this claim is simply not true. Several major environment-altering events have happened in Central Africa since the end of the Cretaceous. One example is the creation of the Great Rift Valley. Therefore, this argument can sadly be debunked.

Another claim is that, since there are no other creatures which resemble these cryptids, they therefore must be modern-day sauropod dinosaurs. However, this is also -- sadly -- incorrect for 2 reasons. First of all, the fossil record is far from complete. It is, indeed, very possible that the fossilized remains of another creature which convergently evolved to resemble a sauropod do exist, but they just have not yet been discovered by paleontologists.
And second, there also happens to be another group of extinct animals which I think are great potential candidates for the mokele-mbembe, and are a lot more likely than a surviving sauropod. It is a group of extinct rhinos, known as the indricotheres.

The indricotheres were a group of gigantic rhinoceroses which lived during the Cenozoic Era, but are now believed to be extinct. Unlike modern rhinos, they had long necks, and they did not have any horns. Although their fossils have not yet been discovered in central Africa, I believe it is possible that some of them might have lived there.
My hypothesis is that, if the mokele-mbembe exists, it is most-likely to be an evolved modern-day form of an indricothere. This hypothetical creature would have evolved several new features, including a semi-aquatic lifestyle, a long, powerful tail, and an even longer neck.
As cryptozoologist Loren Coleman has pointed out, if a scientifically untrained observer saw this creature, they would probably think that it was a dinosaur.

In conclusion, I do not think it is very likely that large sauropod dinosaurs have persisted into the present-day. Instead, if these sightings are, indeed, real, I think that they can most probably be explained by a surviving indricothere, which has evolved over time to look like a sauropod dinosaur, through the fascinating process known as convergent evolution.

An Update about Prehistoric Survival

On February 11, I wrote a post about the possibility of certain cryptids being surviving representatives of long-extinct taxa. Well, I have now reversed my opinion on this matter. You see, after much thought and cosideration, I have now concluded that it is unlikely that most cryptids are "Lazarus taxa" (survivors from a past age). As paleontologist Darren Naish has pointed out on his blog, the phenomenon known as convergent evolution can produce creatures which look very similar to certain extinct creatures from the fossil record. Therefore, it is now my opinion that most of the similarities to extinct animals which are observed in a select few cryptids are most-likely the result of convergent evolution, rather than true prehistoric survival.