Monday, November 28, 2005

And now, from the "How do you explain this job description at a high school class reunion?" files and Yahoo! News...

Sudiegirl sez: Don't get me wrong...I appreciate scientific breakthroughs as much as the next person. Without science, we wouldn't have such important items as microwave popcorn, electric toothbrushes, nor would we know exactly how many licks it takes to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop. (And you know what? The world may never know.)

Anyway, I know science is important...but there's still something about checking poop to find out things that makes me giggle like your typical 3rd grader. So allow me this indulgence, wouldya? Thanks...the snotty comments follow.

Fossilized droppings found in India show dinosaurs grazed
By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Correspondent Fri Nov 18, 2:24 AM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Fossilized dinosaur droppings found in central India show that giant dinosaurs known as titanosaurs ate grass, an international team of researchers reported on Thursday. (And most urine tests show whether or not your average musician smoked grass, so there ya go. And by the way, if you've got an international team of researchers working on this, they'd be called the "World Poop Squad", right? Would they get jerseys with that name emblazoned on the front? Hey, beats being called the "Rainbows" like University of Hawaii's sports teams.)

Few scientists had ever thought that dinosaurs grazed, because there was no evidence that grasses existed that long ago. They believed that the grinding teeth found in some dinosaur fossils were used for munching other plant matter, perhaps trees, like modern beavers chew on today. (I'm trying not to pull a Beavis and Butthead here by saying, "Huh-uh-huh...she said 'beaver'." But it's really hard. OH I've really opened up the double entendre door, huh?)

So when Caroline Stromberg of the Swedish Museum of Natural History received photographs of fossilized dinosaur droppings from Vandana Prasad of the Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeobotany in Lucknow, India, she hardly expected to see pieces of grass in them. (I'm sure that's what many a rock star's defense lawyer said too.)

"I was very surprised to see them and even more surprised to see that there was quite a diversity," Stromberg said in a telephone interview. "It was shocking but very exciting." (I can imagine. This part I won't make fun of because when something new is discovered like this, it is a very emotional experience. OK...on to the next paragraph.)

Prasad's team had been analyzing 65-million-year-old coprolites -- fossilized droppings -- that they believe were left by giant plant-eating sauropod dinosaurs. ( talk to you mother with that mouth?)

They found the expected plant matter -- cycads and conifers and other plants known to have grown during the Cretaceous period. (You know the scary part? I actually kind of sort of know these plant names courtesy of a geology class I took about 14 years ago in college. And OW! Conifers would certainly hurt going down, wouldn't they? That is, unless they chewed their food thoroughly, which is important for good digestion.)

They sent some photographs and then samples to Stromberg, who spotted tiny silica structures called phytoliths. (Not the same as monoliths, I'm sure...could you imagine trying to pass one of those? Even a dinosaur would say OUCH!)

"It's indisputable that these are from grasses. The shape of these phytoliths indicate that they are from grasses," said Dolores Piperno, a paleobotanist at Washington's Smithsonian Institution who reviewed the study, published in the journal Science. (Yeah, but what do they DO, Dolores? Explain this to me!)

Not only that, but they clearly came from very different species of grass.

"It's certainly the first unambiguous evidence that grasses had originated by the late Cretaceous period and also that they had considerably diversified," Piperno said in a telephone interview.

That suggests that grasses had been around for a long time even back then. (This must be the interpretation for us laypersons...)

Stromberg said some of the grass phytoliths look like those found in modern day rice. (Well, rice is usually served with Indian food, and if these dinosaurs lived in India, it makes sense to me!)

"One could imagine that at least some of them lived in rather humid areas perhaps, probably forest-living grasses," she said in a telephone interview. ( no snarky comments for this one...)

"Those tend to have broader leaves than the grasses in your lawn, for example. They are not grasses that you normally associate with open habitat like the prairie. A guess would be that they looked more like herbaceous bamboos, but it's very much a guess." (Herbaceous bamboo...that sounds like a condition you clear up with Gold Bond powder or something.)

The only other hints of such old grasses had come from pollen fossils, which are much more difficult to identify. (Not if you're a dinosaur with hay fever.)

The findings also suggest that early mammals may have grazed. The few fossils that have been found from the rodent-like mammals that lived alongside dinosaurs have mystified scientists -- especially the teeth. (I know it's because I'm not a scientist, but the word "mystified" just makes me giggle when it relates to fossils. I keep expecting "oohs and ahhs", you know?

"They look very much like teeth of animals that grazed today like horses, but much smaller of course," Stromberg said. "This may explain it." (So tiny, little quasi midget mice-horses? How cute!)

Sudiegirl sez:

I do respect these folks, but the fact remains, they're still poop-checkers. I'm happy doing what I do, thank you very much. Don't wanna be a poop-checker. Nope-nope-nope.

Sudiegirl (who is an omnivore, but you don't need to do any further fecal research to guess that...)