This is a new dinosaur exhibit here at the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History. What makes this one so different than other exhibits? Because you know, I go to a lot of dinosaur exhibits.
Luis Chiappe: Right. It focuses on the nature of science, on the how do we know what we know?
CSM: I love that!
LC: This is not a chronological exhibit. This is not--
CSM: So we're not walking through time here?
LC: No, we're not putting the animals in dioramas or anything like that. It's really using dinosaurs as a vehicle for understanding the nature of science, and that's what we've done here. But this is a really cool specimen. I wanted to show it to you.
CSM: What is it?
LC: Well, it's a plesiosaur. It's a kind of marine reptile. What's very interesting of this animal is that it's a pregnant mother that died with it's baby inside her belly.
CSM: So it's not inside of an egg?
LC: It's not an egg. No actually, this is the only evidence we have that plesiosaurs, these animals, gave birth to live young.
CSM: I mean, this is a really impressive specimen. How rare is something like this?
LC: It's one-of-a-kind. I mean, there's no other specimen like this. It's the only one in the world.
CSM: What am I seeing here?
LC: You're seeing the baby right there. If you look at--
CSM: All the tiny bones--
LC: Yeah, all those tiny little bones between the flippers. That's part of the baby. And we know that it was inside the body of the mother. It was born with a huge size, about 40% of the size of the mother.
CSM: Wow. We wouldn't want to see that in humans, would we? (laughs)
LC: I guess not. (laughs)
CSM: So we know that this is a marine reptile, which is separate from dinosaurs. How do we define what is a dinosaur?
LC: Well it's defined on the structure of the hind limbs and the hip. The hip socket was hollow. The hind limbs were placed beneath the body in a vertical position. So that's really some of the defining features.
CSM: Sure. I know that there's some exhibits here that really discuss the similarities between dinosaurs and birds.
LC: Yes we do.
CSM: Would you like to show me those?
LC: Absolutely. And you know, when you look at them what you really need to think about is that birds also have dinosaur hips. Let me show you.
CSM: Great. So I remember learning in school that there was a mass extinction event: a giant asteroid hit earth and wiped out all the dinosaurs at once.
LC: Yeah, and there was one. But the point that we want to make here in this exhibit is that dinosaurs lived and died at different times.
CSM: So they didn't all die together, because they weren't all alive together.
LC: And we live 65 million years from Triceratops. So in time terms, we're closer to Triceratops than Triceratops was to Stegosaurus.
CSM: Right...that's why we're standing here in this section of the hall with pictures of birds everywhere, no?
LC: Exactly. And some dinosaurs.
CSM: And some dinosaurs. This is a dinosaur.
LC: This is a dinosaur. It's called Struthiomimus.
CSM: But those are birds.
LC: An ostrich and a swan. And when the extinction took place 65 million years ago, Struthiomimus didn't make it, and these guys--or the predecessors of these guys--did make it.
CSM: I see. And so their predecessors were birds or dinosaurs?
LC: They were birds, but birds had evolved long before from the dinosaurs.
CSM: Do we know how long ago that divergence took place?
LC: More than 150 million years ago.
CSM: And is that when my, my tattoo here of Archaeopteryx, is that when he lived?
LC: Archaeopteryx lived 150 million years--and is the earliest and the most primitive and oldest known bird.
CSM: But really a lot of these creatures were very, very bird-like.
LC: People should be thinking of birds as living dinosaurs, you know. You want to see a dinosaur, certainly you can come here to see great dinosaurs in this exhibit--
CSM: And I think a lot of people don't realize that they can go "dinosaur watching" just outside. Thanks so much for showing me around your beautiful exhibit, Dr. Chiappe.
LC: My pleasure.
To learn more about Dr. Chiappe and the new dinosaur hall at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, visit www.nhm.org.
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