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johnupdikasaurus
November 30, 2007 8:54 PM   Subscribe

John Updike writes about bizarre dinosaurs for National Geographic. "How weird might a human body look to them? That thin and featherless skin, that dish-flat face, that flaccid erectitude, those feeble, clawless five digits at the end of each limb, that ghastly utter lack of a tail—ugh. Whatever did this creature do to earn its place in the sun, a well-armored, nicely specialized dino might ask. " Besides the Updike essay there's a image gallery, an interview with John Updike [audio starts automatically], a dino IQ test, an audio critique of the way dinosaurs have been depicted in the latter half of the 20th Century [audio starts automatically], a closer look at the odder features of some of the stranger dinosaurs, an examination of the nigersaurus (images) as well as dinosaur wallpapers and jigsaw puzzles. [via MeFi's Own ed]
posted by Kattullus (26 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
"Flaccid"? Who you callin "flaccid"??
posted by LordSludge at 9:35 PM on November 30, 2007


F1acid Erekti2ude
posted by Tube at 9:44 PM on November 30, 2007


Whatever did this creature do to earn its place in the sun, a well-armored, nicely specialized dino might ask.

It probably wouldn't think this so much as eat us.
posted by allkindsoftime at 9:47 PM on November 30, 2007


The Human body layout is quite strange. Has there ever been another animal that walked on two legs, perpendicular to the ground and is tailless?
posted by afu at 10:39 PM on November 30, 2007


I think there were probably several other kinds of animals that walked on two legs, perpendicular to the ground and tailless. But they're extinct now. Last of the homo genus, we are.

But really, this is about DINOSAURS, WOO!!

I love dinosaurs. Thanks for the post, Kattullus.
posted by Mister Cheese at 10:59 PM on November 30, 2007


Mister Cheese: But really, this is about DINOSAURS, WOO!!

Dinosaurs rule, indeed. The reason I chose the quote was because it was my favorite bit from the essay.
posted by Kattullus at 11:11 PM on November 30, 2007


Pretty interesting, cept for the pretentious essay, lousy flash interfaces and the feeling that they were distorting the facts to "dispel our preconceptions".

But birds are direct decedents of dinosaurs, didn't know that and very cool.
posted by parallax7d at 11:52 PM on November 30, 2007


Has there ever been another animal that walked on two legs, perpendicular to the ground and is tailless?

Yes. Several, at least.
posted by sourwookie at 11:55 PM on November 30, 2007


Yes. Several, at least.

Besides Homo, list one.
posted by afu at 12:12 AM on December 1, 2007


And choosing Australopithecus doesn't count, no close human ancestors. Australopithecus probably wasn't fully upright any way.
posted by afu at 12:15 AM on December 1, 2007


Whatever did this creature do to earn its place in the sun, a well-armored, nicely specialized dino might ask.

Extremely tactile hands with opposable thumbs, high brain-to-body mass, high resolution optics, symbolic language, thought, consciousness, the ability to make clever tools...

Like armor-piercing rocket propelled grenades. *fwoomp*

*dances around* We're having raptor tonight!

Hell yes I'd eat a dinosaur. Why do you think they went extinct? They were delicious!

posted by loquacious at 12:23 AM on December 1, 2007 [2 favorites]


Most tailless bipeds are birds. Kiwis are tailless bipeds. As are ostiches, emus, cassowaries, rheas, and a few other flightless birds (I'm assuming birds that can fly count as flyers rather than walkers, and so aren't in the running.) However, like their ancestors the theropod dinosaurs, these walking birds hold their spines horizontally rather than upright.

Penguins might count as true upright tailless bipeds (for practical purposes - that is to say, for the purpose of balancing upright - they are pretty much tailless), since they are walkers half the time and swimmers the rest.

Most truly upright bipeds are hoppers with tails - this set includes many marsupials (kangaroos and their relatives) and a number of hopping rodents (such as kangaroo rats and springhares). Truly upright primates, such as sifakas and sportive lemurs, also tend to have tails.

Gibbons and giant pangolins (scaly anteaters) walk with an alternating gait rather than hopping, but both have tails.

While most higher primates can walk upright from time to time, hominids are considered the only truly upright tailless bipeds among the primates, and I'm pretty sure humans are the only hominids left.

So I would argue that the only true upright tailless bipeds are hominids, of which only humans remain, and penguins. Hail to our penguin brethren!

It is a pretty weird arrangement. Lower back problems out the wazoo.
posted by kyrademon at 3:09 AM on December 1, 2007 [5 favorites]


Bravo to National Geographic for asking a premiere prose stylist to describe these extraordinary creatures. Updike, in particular, has always struck me as a "pied beauty" kind of writer (delighting in the world's mutable Ovidian overload), so just a great combination of science and style.
posted by Haruspex at 5:33 AM on December 1, 2007


I ate shit in that dino IQ quiz, but there were some trick questions, like the one about flying dinosaurs. Of course there were flying dinosaurs! Technically the ones that could fly were pterosaurs, not dinosaurs, but who remembers that distinction off the top of their head?
posted by creasy boy at 5:37 AM on December 1, 2007


I once saw a mature chimpanzee, about five feet tall, in the Rio de Janerio zoo with a straight back, and a perfectly human-like gait. It was unnerving. He walked up to the edge of the cage, and stood there, looking you right in the eye.

But regarding some of these highly bizarre dinosaurs, you have to wonder how correct they are getting some of these reconstructions. I mean, they may not be more accurate than these Victorian visions of dinosaurs. (By the way, check out the bottom of the second link to see a reconstruction of what was a proposed Paleozoic Museum for Central Park. I'd though I knew everything about Central Park, but this was news to me...)
posted by Faze at 6:24 AM on December 1, 2007 [1 favorite]


Besides Homo, list one.

Sorry. I didn't know the restrictions were "not extinct" and "not of the same genus."
posted by sourwookie at 7:03 AM on December 1, 2007


I ate shit in that dino IQ quiz, but there were some trick questions, like the one about flying dinosaurs. Of course there were flying dinosaurs! Technically the ones that could fly were pterosaurs, not dinosaurs, but who remembers that distinction off the top of their head?


Well... I do. But I'm a dino nerd. What annoyed me was this:

No known dinosaurs, except birds, had usable wings. It is a common misconception that dinosaurs (excluding birds) could fly.

So... they're arbitrarily drawing a line between dinosaurs and birds. No dinosaurs had usable wings! Except for the ones that did!
posted by brundlefly at 11:18 AM on December 1, 2007


Sorry. I didn't know the restrictions were "not extinct" and "not of the same genus."

The question would have been utterly boring if it didn't have those restrictions.
posted by afu at 12:09 PM on December 1, 2007


not extinct is not one of the criteria, What is an extinct or living upright animal with no tail and a spine that is perpendicular to the ground, so far we only have penguins and hominids.
posted by afu at 12:13 PM on December 1, 2007


Penguins have tails.
posted by dirigibleman at 3:09 PM on December 1, 2007


Piers Anthony put some oblique musings of this sort into the POV of an adult male "terror bird" in Orn. I don't have a copy right now, but the orn kept wondering why these silly "hairless mams" kept peeing out all their damn water instead of secreting concentrated urine like a civilized animal...
posted by lodurr at 6:17 PM on December 1, 2007


Penguins do indeed have short tails, dirigibleman; I was saying penguins might count because I was reading the question as meaning: besides humans, are there any bipeds with upright spines who do not use a tail as a balance system? Because I thought afu was asking if any other critters had that kind of weird functional set-up.

Penguins pretty much use their tails as a water steering system, not so much for walking balance as far as I know (I could be wrong), although they also sometimes recline back on them as kind of a personal camp stool when they're just hanging around.

So, reading the question as a functional one (are there any other upright bipeds who don't use a tail to help them stand up?), penguins count. Reading it strictly literally (are there any other upright bipeds with no tail at all?), then no, they don't.

But I think it makes sense to read it as a functional question, because it was a question about how animals stand and move. If there was a creature with, I don't know, four legs that never used more than two of them at a time, I might count that one, too.
posted by kyrademon at 9:19 PM on December 1, 2007


(I mean, you can't tell me that little nubbin is acting as a significant balance for the rest of it.)
posted by kyrademon at 9:23 PM on December 1, 2007


Well, what do you mean by "balance"?

In water, and especially at the speed at which penguins swim, it must have a huge impact. it's just that the "balance" factor is no longer gravity, but fluid dynamics.
posted by lodurr at 7:22 AM on December 2, 2007


I meant balance for walking upright.
posted by kyrademon at 1:48 PM on December 2, 2007


In walks these three raptors in nothing but bathing suits...
posted by Opposite George at 5:09 PM on December 2, 2007


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