Wednesday, February 29, 2012


After the extinction of the Dinosaurs, for a brief period, Birds ruled the world before the rise of Mammals.  The Phorusrhacid Family (known as “Terror Birds”) ruled South America which was isolated from the rest of the world for millions of years.  Because of this, “Terror Birds” were dominant there during the late Miocene and Pliocene epoch (25 million years ago (mya) to 2 mya), while Mammals dominated other continents.  Moreover, during the Great American Faunal Interchange, one “Terror Bird” went north to the Southeastern United States to compete with the Mammals there.
The Phorusrhacid Family was called “Terror Birds” because of their heavy sharp beaks.  These giant flightless Birds would wait in ambush, and either slash or stab their prey, and then wait for the unfortunate victims to die.  Instead of grasping and shaking their prey, “Terror Birds” used their fearsome beaks as hatchets for killing.  They slashed downwards with their sharp barbed beaks on the skulls of their prey.
When the fossils of the first Phorusrhacids were found, people did not consider them to be those of Birds.  In fact when the bones of Phorusracos were first discovered, scientists thought that they were from a large Mammal.  Only when a skull of this “Terror Bird” was found, did people realize that She was a giant Bird.  Meanwhile in Patagonia, a huge skull was determined to be a new species – Kelenken, who became named for a fearsome spirit of the Tehuelche people.  As the tallest “Terror Bird”, She ran faster than the others.  The newest member of the Phorusrhacid Family, Titanis made her way north to the United States, by swimming and island-hopping from South America.
During the Pliocene epoch (about two mya), “Terror Birds” went extinct.  Some people have suggested the Great American Faunal Interchange for the reason, since many predatory Mammals went south.  However, “Terror Birds” in regions where there were no predatory Mammals went extinct also.  Perhaps climate change was the culprit, when many parts of South America became drier.  Not much is really known about the demise of these Birds.
For a brief time, Birds ruled the earth.  However what most people remember is the Age of Dinosaurs and the coming of the Mammals.  Many forget about the Birds, and regard Them merely to be a place holder between Dinosaurs and Mammals.  “Terror Birds” are largely relegated to an interesting sideshow.
“Terror Birds” urge us to pay attention, to discover things that we may have overlooked.  For example, “Terror Birds” ruled a part of the earth that we may have not known much about.  They tell us to give up our sketchy ideas and become more attentive to the details.  “Terror Birds” give us a choice: Notice things closely or risk being stabbed.
Science Notes:
1.       “Terror Birds” are not related to “Monster Birds” (Dromornithidae) of Australia or Gastronis of the Paleocene epoch.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

GASTORNIS (DIATRYMA) (GIANT BIRD): Intellectual Curiosity

After the Dinosaurs died off, Birds became the dominant species, thereby ushering in the Age of Birds.  The first giant Bird to emerge in this new age was Gastornis (Diatryma).  During the Paleocene epoch and early Eocene epoch (65 million years ago to 40 million years ago), this giant flightless Bird ruled the forests of Europe and North America.
            Gastornis stood about seven feet (2.2. meters) tall, and had a huge skull as big as a modern Horse.  The most notable feature of this giant Bird was his sharp hooked beak.  After sharpening his beak on rocks, Gastornis used it as a hatchet, slashing small Mammals with it.  After watching his prey bleed to death, He would dine on the unfortunate Animal.
            However, there is much discussion over what Gastornis actually used his massive beak for.  Some scientists think that Gastornis used it to scavenge for meat and to crack bones.  Others suggest that perhaps He cracked nuts with it much like Modern Parrots do.  Some scientists countered that idea with the argument that his beak was too powerful a beak for Gastornis to subsist only on plants.
            Gastornis and his beak are at the nexus of the inner mysteries of nature and the limits of our knowledge.  We can only imagine how He lived, and ponder the mysteries that He presents.  Was Gastornis a carnivore or an omnivore, and why does it matter?  Whatever the case may be, his beak was something to be reckoned with by anyone’s standards.
            Gastornis urges us to expand our intellectual curiosity to know more.  With Him acting as our guide, we can determine which of our ideas are true and which are false.  Discarding the ones that turn out to be false, we can then develop new exciting ideas to test.  With his fearsome beak, Gastornis leads on to direct us beyond the limits of what we think we know.  Follow Him, armed with your intellectual curiosity.
Science Notes:
  1.  Diatryma was the North American name for Gastornis.
  2. Although Gastornis resembled the Terror Birds (Phorusrhacids) of South America, the two bird species are not related.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Animal Behavior and Future Events

NASA: Solar Flare of Another Star
For one week (January 23 to 29, 2012), I observed the birds that came to my feeder in the morning.  Then on my afternoon walk, I noted the activities of the animals that I encountered.  Throughout, the week I jotted everything down that I felt to be unusual in my journal.

A white squirrel that has a nest near my building rarely shows itself to me.  However for three days in a row, this particular squirrel sat on the fence bordering the sidewalk, looking at me.  Since that squirrel was acting oddly, I decided to check out the behavior of the other grey squirrels.  They, too, were acting peculiarly because they were continually grooming and flicking their bushy tails.  Since all the squirrels could not remain still for very long, they seemed to be more nervous than usual.  Later, I found out that massive solar flares had occurred during these days.  The intense magnetic waves from the sun were affecting these small mammals.  These squirrels were reacting to the increased activity of the sun in their strange behavior.

On another day, I witnessed a duel between a downy and a hairy woodpecker at my suet feeder.  Moreover these two birds drove the other birds away from the suet, with their pointed beaks.  An hour later, the sky turned black, opened up, and then poured down buckets of water.  The woodpeckers seem desperate to get their suet before any other bird.

The only non-natural event that I could correlate with the activities in nature was the delivery of my living room rug.  Two Carolina wrens visited my feeder that morning and early afternoon.  Besides lingering, the two wrens trilled for a while.  Meanwhile, when I took my garbage to the dumpster, a flock of Canadian geese flew low over my head twice.  These birds wanted my attention for something.  They seemed to want me remain home for some reason.

Later that afternoon, the delivery man brought the large heavy rug up the stairs to my door.  He was happy to see me, since he did not want to have to take the rug back down to his truck.  This delivery was a surprise to me, since I had just ordered the rug, the day before.  The birds wanted me to be home to receive the rug, since I was not expecting it.

In my observations throughout the week, I noticed that the proverbs for weather seemed to be true.  On some days, the birds sang in early morning, indicating a clear day to come.  Another day, it rained until a bit of blue sky appeared.  The west wind blew the clouds out, and a beautiful crescent moon rose that night.  

The sayings for luck seemed more subjective.  I could not determine if anything happened to me luck-wise.  For example, birds flying on the left or right side of me did not change or portend anything unusual.  Only the delivery of rug and the birds seemed to be linked.

Works Used.
Chow, Denis, “Sun Unleashes Strongest Flare Yet of 2012”, 27 January 2012, Space.Com, .

----, “Massive Solar Flare Headed Toward Earth May Spark Celestial Light Show”, 20 January 2012,,, .

Sunday, February 19, 2012

CYNOGNATHUS: Ancestral Guide

One of the first Animals to have specialized teeth was Cynognathus, a Cynodont (proto-Mammal).  This meat-eater had two canines to stab her prey with, and cheek teeth to shear meat off.  A cross between Dog and Lizard, Cynognathus was the top predator during the Triassic before the rise of the Dinosaurs.  Like modern Wolves, Cynognathus hunted in packs bringing down large animals.  Another reason for Cynognathus being a top predator was her large mammal-like brain. 
A fast moving carnivore, She had her front legs directly underneath Her instead of side by side like Reptiles.  Furthermore, Cynognathus had powerful jaws, and an unusually large head (which accounted for twenty percent of her body).  In addition, Cynognathus had many other similarities to modern Mammals.  She was warm-blooded, covered with fur, and gave birth to live young.  Although She lived about 230 million years ago, Cynognathus is believed to be the ancestor of modern Mammals.
Even though Cynognathus is far removed from us, She can still be considered to be one of our deep ancestors.  By living in deep time, Cynognathus can guide us through our own line of ancestors.  She will show how each of us came into being.  Let Her help you discover your links in your chain of life.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

CYNODONT FAMILY: Clarity of Thought

The Great Dying of the Permian Period occurred about 250 million years ago.  At that time, about ninety percent of all animals on the earth died out.  One group that did survive was the Cynodont Family, which then thrived before the rise of the Dinosaurs (at the end of the Triassic Period).  From this group of proto-mammals (Therapsids (Synapsids)) came the ancestor of modern Mammals.

The Triassic Period featured two groups of Animals that gave rise to other well-known Animals.  From the Archosaurs (“Ruling Reptiles”) came Dinosaurs, and from the Therapsids, came Mammals.  The most diverse group of Therapsids were the Cynodonts, who included both meat and plant eaters.  During the Triassic Extinction Event (200 million years ago), many kinds of Therapsids died out, while Archosaurs blossomed into Dinosaurs.  However, a few Cynodonts did survive to be become Mammals.

Cynodonts are neither Reptiles nor Mammals, but a bridge from one group to the other.  In fact, they lie at the nexus of “mammalness” and “reptileness”, and display the progression from Reptile to Mammal.  In that evolution, Cynodonts have developed three bones in their ears and one for their jaws, much like Mammals of today.  (Reptiles have three bones on either side of their jaws and one for their ears.)  Also, Cynodonts developed a bone to separate their breathing air from eating food, which modern Mammals also have.

As They can be both Reptiles and Mammals, Cynodonts challenge our casual assumptions.  To define what these Animals are, scientists have to have a deep knowledge of zoology.  Moreover, the definitions of Mammal and Reptile require a precision of thought.  For clarity in thinking, let Cynodonts be your guide.  They can lead you into the heart of the perplexing matter, and illuminate the answer.  Let Cynodonts be our bridge from fuzzy thing to concise knowledge.