Falcarius: I Know Dino Podcast Episode 59

Falcarius: I Know Dino Podcast Episode 59

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This episode was originally published on January 15, 2016.

Episode 59 is all about Falcarius, one of the earliest theropods to switch from eating meat to eating plants.

In this episode, we discuss:

The dinosaur of the day: Falcarius
Name means “sickle cutter”
Falcarius is named for its sharp claws
A therizinosaurian dinosaur that lived in the early Cretaceous in Utah
Falcarius bones were first found in 1999 by Lawrence Walker (a commercial fossil collector). He told paleontologist James Kirkland, and in 2001 Kirkland and a team from the Utah Geological Survey helped uncover bones in Utah’s Cedar Mountain Formation
Lawrence Walker sold fossils on the black market, but he thought Falcarius was an important find, so he came forward (and spent five months in jail and paid a $15,000 fine). Kirkland said “He may be the first person to ever go to jail for fossil theft on public land.”
Two bonebeds were found, of hundred (maybe thousands) of Falcarius individuals (in 2006, estimated there were at least 300 individuals, in 2005, more than 2,000 specimens excavated, many disarticulated bones, also juveniles); in 2010 there were over 2,700 individuals found, by the end of 2010 over 3,000
A second site was found in 2008 (Suarez Quarry) with many adults, possibly a slightly different type of Falcarius
Both graveyard sites may have been associated with a spring (reason for so many individuals there), and may have died due to drought, toxic gasses, or bacteria (they all come togehter at those springs, at least periodically)
Because there are so many individuals of different sizes and ages, it will be great for research and finding out how fast they grew, when they matured, how much variation was between them
Falcarius was first described in 2004, though it wasn’t formally named until May 2005. Co-authors, including Scott Sampson and Lindsay Zanno (but not Jim Kirkland) said that Falcarius “is the missing link between predatory dinosaurs and the bizarre plant-eating therizinosaurs.”. Lindsay Zanno also said Falcarius is “The ultimate in bizarre: a cross between an ostrich, a gorilla, and Edward Scissorhands.”
Type species is Falcarius utahensis
Falcarius helps to show the early evolution of Therizinosauria (its group) and their relationship to other theropods (Falcarius shows a transition between older theropods and Therizinosauridae)
Falcarius shows the change from a meat eater to a plant eater (some think it was an omnivore)
Not clear why these dinosaurs switched from eating meat to eating plants (especially since they were adapted to be successful meat eaters)
Falcarius lived around the time of the first flowering plants in the fossil record (could be a reason to switch)
Therizinosaurs evolved from raptorlike group of dinosaurs (Maniraptora)
Falcarius seems to be proof that therizinosaurs evolved from raptor-like dinosaurs, though not directly from Velociraptor, but from a common ancestor not yet known
In the 1990s Kirkland found the first therizinosaur in North America, Nothronychus, which was younger than the oldest therizinosaurs from Asia (so they originally thought therizinosaurs started in Asia and migrated on the land bridge between Alaska and Siberia to get to North America)
Falcarius is 125 million years old, as old as the oldest known Asian therizinosaur, Beipaiosaurus, and is more primitive (also, some evidence that the land bridge didn’t exist 125 million years ago)
Falcarius is the most primitive dinosaur in the therizinosaur group, and shows they probably used to live all over the northern hemisphere
So, therizinosaurs may have originated in North America and then gone to Europe and Asia (most likely migrated via Europe, some paleontologists think we may someday find a therizinosaur in England)

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