Tales from Tanzania: Only prey runs

I did something foolish. Feeling inspired by all the runners here at the Museum, I signed up for the half marathon. I am in okay shape, and while Carolyn and I sometimes participate in sprint triathlons, I don’t super love the running part. “How hard can this be?” I thought, “I’ve got months to train!”

Not quite.

Because Dave and I will be in Africa for most of November, I will have to take a break from running. Why, you ask? I’ll have my feet with me, right? Surely I will take some sneakers…

Because only prey runs.

Courtesy of National Geographic

Courtesy of National Geographic

catvisionIn Africa, lions, leopards and cheetahs are some of the biggest predators around. What makes these big cats such apt hunters? One adaptation of note is binocular vision. The cat’s eyeballs are proportionately larger than other carnivores. Even the common house cat can open its pupils to a maximum area three times larger than a human’s. In fact, in the right conditions, a cheetah can see up to 3 miles away. This means that the hunting instinct in cats is first cued by movement.

humanvisionA house cat has 287 degrees of total vision with 130 degrees of binocular vision, while a human has about 200 degrees of total vision with 50 to 80 degrees of binocular vision. The extended scope of a cat’s vision makes them much better hunters, enabling them to judge distances more accurately.

A weakness in the big cats, however, is endurance. Lions, cheetahs, and leopards are all built for short bursts of speed, but they cannot sustain the efforts. Lions, for example, have relatively small lungs for the size of their bodies so they fatigue fairly quickly.

Don’t be fooled, however: those short bursts of speed can be amazing. Leopards can reach 45 mph, lions can reach almost 50 mph, and cheetahs a whopping 74.6 mph. In fact, cheetahs can reach 60 mph in 3 seconds and can cover 20 feet in a single stride. So while the endurance isn’t long lived, it is impressive and impossible to outrun!

So what do you do if you find a lion on your trail? Experts recommend standing your ground, avoiding eye contact and slowly backing away. If the big cat continues after you, move your arms, shout and try to make yourself look bigger. Either way – don’t run and don’t play dead. Lions are happy to scavenge and delighted to chase!

When I return to running in December, I will have to double up my efforts. Perhaps I can pretend a lion is chasing me for extra motivation.

Your Dino Mummy Questions, Answered

Ed. Note: Leonardo has only been on display in Dinosaur Mummy CSI: Cretaceous Science Investigation for a few weeks – but we’ve already gotten a ton of fascinating questions from visitors. In this post, Dr. Bakker  answers them. If you have a question about Leonardo – or anything on exhibit at the Houston Museum of Natural Science – send it to blogadmin@hmns.org and we’ll post the answer here.

Dinosaur Mummy CSI presents scans of Leonardo that show gut contents and even a possible heart. Does Leonardo have lungs preserved?

There are some curious iron concretions revealed by the x-rays here but nothing definite.

Duck-bill dinosaurs do not have hollowed-out bones of the sort we see in birds and raptors and tyrannosaurs. Therefore we don’t expect that they had the very small lungs and big air chambers in the body cavity characteristic of modern birds.

The lungs would be tucked up high in the chest, covered by rib numbers 3,4,5,6 – if the lungs were like those of birds and crocodiles.

The drawings of Leonardo in the exhibit are very colorful – how do you know what colors dinosaurs had on their skin?

…theoretical stripes.

Think “Okapi.” That’s the giraffe-like thing in wet woodlands today.

Dinosaurs had bird-style eyes, so camouflage had to match habitat colors. Dull browns and greys were not good enough to fool an eagle-eyed gorgosaur.

Early Judithian environs had wet forests with big conifer trees and, in the rainy season, thick underbrush. Dry season would bring browns & rust colors.

So……..Mike Berglund (a dinosaur illustrator) has made a testable theory with his partially banded Brachy. Breaking the profile by having the tail a different color would help flummox predators, who would have a more difficult time seeing the whole body and tail shape. The thick verticals would help the beast blend in among the tree trunks.

How can we test color ideas?  More paleo-environmental research. More thinking about fossil pollen, turtles, crocodiles & salamanders….all witnesses to rainfall, groundwater, and floral geometry.

What animals alive today would be most like Leonardo?

Creative Commons License photo credit: The Anti-ZIM

The Antelope Family – most diverse family of medium-large planteaters on land today. The Antelope Family includes cows and buffalo, gazelles and oryx, funny-faced hartebeest and gnu, cute duikers and stately eland. Muskoxen and sheep and goats. Antelope supply most of the prey for lions, leopards, cheetah and hyenas.

The Duckbill Family is the most diverse, big-ish plant-eaters in the last part of the dinosaurian age, the Late Cretaceous. The Duckbill Family includes our HMNS Edmontosaurus, and the Trombone Dinosaur, Parasaurolophus (kids’ favorite). And the “Good-Mother” Maiasaura, who left us fossil eggs and nests. Leo’s species, Brachylophosaurus, is a duckbill too. Duckbills supplied most of the prey for all the tyrannosaur meateaters, such as Gorgosaurus, Daspletosaurusand the famous Tyrannosaurus rex.

The technical name for the Antelope Family is Family Bovidae, or “bovids” for short.

The technical name for the Duck Bill Family is Family Hadrosauridae, or “hadrosaurs” for short.*

Want to learn more about Leonardo and other dinosaurs?
See how we moved the 6-ton fossil into the museum.
See David Temple repairing and gluing a fossil back together.
Draw a dinosaur with Dr. Bakker.