[Paleopsych] NYT: The Making of a Vegetarian: A Dinosaur Is Caught in the Act

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The Making of a Vegetarian: A Dinosaur Is Caught in the Act
New York Times, 5.5.5

[I will be glad to send along any Creationist response that is specific to this 
discovery, as opposed to general critiques of evolution, of which I have read 
and sent many.]


    Without government nutrition guidelines, a doctor's advice or some
    primeval diet fad, entire species of dinosaurs sometimes forsook their
    predatory, meat-eating lifestyle and evolved into grazing vegetarians.
    Scientists now think they have found rare evidence of a species
    undergoing just such a dietary transition 125 million years ago.

    Paleontologists in Utah announced yesterday that they had discovered a
    new species of dinosaurs in an intermediate stage between carnivore
    and herbivore, on the way to becoming a committed vegetarian. They
    could only speculate on the reasons for the change, but noted that it
    occurred in a time of global warming and the arrival of flowering
    plants in profusion, a tempting new food source.

    Dr. James I. Kirkland, a paleontologist with the Utah Geological
    Survey, said the new species, named Falcarius utahensis, was uncovered
    two years ago at a remote dig site near the town of Green River. The
    animal, about 13 feet long and 4½ feet tall, was a primitive member of
    the therizinosaur group of feathered dinosaurs.

    Under closer examination, Dr. Kirkland said, the Falcarius fossils
    showed "the beginnings of features we associate with plant-eating
    dinosaurs." The teeth were not the sharp, bladelike serrated teeth of
    the typical predator, but smaller and adapted for shredding leaves. "I
    doubt that this animal could have cut a steak," he said.

    Other characteristics of an animal in transition to herbivory included
    an expansion of the gut to digest the mass of fermenting plants,
    stouter legs for supporting a bulkier body instead of the slender legs
    of a fast-running predator, and a lengthening of the neck, perhaps to
    reach for leaves higher in the trees.

    Dr. Scott D. Sampson, chief curator of the Museum of Natural History
    at the University of Utah, said the new fossils were "amazing
    documentation of a major dietary shift" and promised to "tell us how
    this shift happened."

    The scientists described and interpreted the findings in interviews
    and a teleconference from Salt Lake City. A detailed report is being
    published today in the journal Nature.

    Dr. Mark A. Norell, a dinosaur specialist at the American Museum of
    Natural History who was not involved in the research, said the fossils
    were well preserved and the teeth appeared to be similar to those of
    plant-eating dinosaurs. But he questioned how much scientists would be
    able to learn from the specimen about the change from meat eating to
    plant eating.

    Dr. Sampson said, "Falcarius represents evolution caught in the act, a
    primitive form that shares much in common with its carnivorous kin,
    while possessing a variety of features demonstrating that it had
    embarked on the path toward more advanced plant-eating forms."

    Dr. Norell agreed that the new species "is a very important and
    interesting animal," primarily because it is a rare early example of
    the therizinosaur group in North America. Falcarius is anatomically
    more primitive than the better-known therizinosaurs that were
    prevalent in China about 90 million years ago and had already evolved
    as plant eaters.

    Lindsay E. Zanno, a doctoral student in paleontology at Utah, said
    Falcarius was "the most primitive known therizinosaur, demonstrating
    unequivocally that this large-bodied group of bizarre herbivorous
    dinosaurs" came from predatory carnivores like the swift, fierce
    Velociraptor. Falcarius and Velociraptor had a common ancestor.

    Scientists say all the vegetarian dinosaurs evolved from ancestors
    that were carnivores. Some 230 million years ago, the first dinosaur
    was presumably a small-bodied, fleet-footed predator. Then two major
    groups of dinosaurs, the gigantic species and the smaller duck-billed
    grazers, evolved as plant eaters.

    As for Falcarius, scientists are not sure what it ate, meat or plants
    or both, and they suspect that the transition extended over several
    million years.

    But with Falcarius, Dr. Sampson said, "we have actual fossil evidence
    of a major dietary shift, certainly the best example documented among

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