Paleontologists don’t get many holidays. The 4th of July gives them a reason to crack a celebratory beer for Thomas Jefferson, our first and so far only paleontologist president, in addition to toasting American independence, but other than that the year is pretty sparse. Except for this Thursday. On Thanksgiving paleontologists gather their families ’round for an annual dinosaur dissection, and a new guide from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute will help you follow along.
The delicious necropsy isn’t quite like cutting up a T. rex. You can readily pick up a theropod from most any grocery store. That’s because birds are living dinosaurs. Alan Grant couldn’t shut up about it in Jurassic Park, and real-life paleontologists have unearthed scores of fossils that document how small, feathery, Velociraptor-like dinosaurs evolved into birds. In short, birds are dinosaurs in the same way that bats are mammals. And given that birds are the only living dinosaur lineage, it’s no wonder that we started eating them.
So while you’re waiting for the traditional bird to roast, have a look at Comparative Anatomy of the Domestic Chicken. Sure, turkey is the Thanksgiving standard, but the same anatomical similarities hold. From hips to hands to the wishbone, the interactive site will walk you through the signs of poultry’s dinosaurian ancestry once you get some of that tasty meat off the bones. And if that doesn’t sound good enough, having a few fossil facts in your pocket might come in handy when your family starts in with awkward relationship questions. Nothing forestalls “So when will we get to meet this significant other of yours?” quite like a primer on cladistics.
IMAGE: Brian Switek