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Rare Fossil Shows Dinosaurs As Fast, Dangerous

CORVALLIS, Ore. - Scientists at Oregon State University who just completed a study of what they say is the world's most perfectly preserved fossil of a theropod, or meat-eating dinosaur, say it provides an unprecedented view of the biology of these ancient reptiles and new clues to their lifestyle.

The bottom line is you wouldn't want to meet one of them in a dark alley.

The research, to be published Friday in the journal Science, offers insights into dinosaur metabolism, the warm-blooded versus cold-blooded debate, the question of whether or not they might have been the ancestors of birds, and even the biology that first helped them dominate the world and eventually may have led to their extinction.

"This fossil is helping confirm that the dinosaurs were indeed, by definition, cold blooded, and that in all likelihood birds are not the descendants of any known group of dinosaurs," said Nicholas Geist, a paleobiologist at OSU. "But the extraordinary condition of the fossil allows us to hang some meat on the bones of these animals and bring them back to life a little bit. It's almost like a dinosaur dissection."

What that analysis reveals, Geist said, is an animal that had the best of both worlds. Like other cold-blooded animals, these theropod dinosaurs had low metabolic rates while at rest, which is an excellent strategy for conserving energy. But its enhanced lung ventilation capacity gave it the potential for the type of aggressive, extended activity typical of birds and mammals.

"These theropod dinosaurs were fast, dangerous animals," Geist said, "certainly not slow or sluggish. They could conserve energy much of the time and then go like hell whenever they wanted to. That might go a long way towards explaining why they were able to dominate mammals for 150 million years."

Geist and OSU colleague Terry Jones made these observations after study in Salerno, Italy of a fossil first d
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Contact: Terry Jones
jonest@bcc.orst.edu
541-737-6120
Oregon State University
21-Jan-1999


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