Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Save the Squatter!

Everybody and your mom (their mother?) is blogging about "The Squatter" finally getting published. This is the amazing trace fossil in St. George, Utah that shows not only the footprints of a dilophosaur-sized theropod, but a nearly complete lower-body impression. This is not where the dinosaur walked, but where it sat down to take a breather from constantly chasing things and roaring its fool head off (if every CGI dinosaur show on Discovery is to be believed). (They're not).

The impression includes the pubic boot it sat on, feet/metatarsals, tail, and--most importantly--hands. The hands prints were left side-on, offering the final piece of conclusive proof that theropods did not "pronate" the hands. They could not point palm down like dribbling a basketball, but like a bird wing, were locked with palms facing each other, like holding a basketball. This is something paleontology types have known for a long time based on anatomical studies but it's nice to have behavioral proof. Also nice to have it confirmed in such a primitive species, since many of said anatomical studies were based on more advanced, more bird-like species. Years ago when rumors of this find first hit the tubes, it was said to preserve feathers as well, but that's probably just a bunch of plant material it was sitting on. It's unlikely such a primitive dinosaur would have had feathers (they appear to be restricted to advanced coelurosaurs and birds).

So why does this fossil need saving? Well, it already narrowly avoided being intentionally destroyed in order to build the rear wall of the St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site Museum (ironic, eh?). Now the museum has built a section around the fossil in order to help preserve it from erosion, but it's still weathering ever so slowly, and the museum is too underfunded to really go to the lengths they need to preserve it over the long-term.

That's where we come in. This whole story was brought to by Sarah Spears, former employee of the museum, has put out a call for donations at her blog Gombessa Girl (which also has a more in-depth discussion of the specimen and its predicament).

So, dino fans, you can help save the Squatter by visiting and becoming a member, joining their Adopt-A-Track program, or buying some swag from the gift shop (which has some pretty cool casts of the dino tracks for sale).

Oh, and for you research-hungry gosshounds, the paper describing the Squatter is online for absolutely free at PLoS ONE, including CC licensed images like the awesome reconstruction here, by awesome wildlife artist Kyoht Luterman.

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