'Jurassic World: Dominion' is the hot new movie in theaters, paleontologists like its depiction of dinosaurs, and scientist are working with the frozen flesh of wooly mammoths and DNA extracted from fossils to de-extinct these creatures and potentially create and open a real-life Jurassic Park. Is this a good idea? You may change your mind with the news from the paleontological world this week about the discoveries of some prehistoric creatures you may not want to run into on your morning jog after they’ve escaped from your local Jurassic Park – a giant bear dog, a bipedal monster reaper with scythes for claws, a giant crocodile-headed predator, and a dog-faced T. rex on steroids. Still interested in standing in line for a live Jurassic Park in Chicago?
Let’s start with the Paralitherizinosaurus japonicus, a new species found in Japan whose name means "reptile by the sea" in Greek and Latin but whose looks remind you more of Edward Scissorhands with scales. This therizinosaur – a slow-moving, long-necked, bipedal dinosaur of the Cretaceous period, about 145 million to 66 million years ago – had just three ‘fingers’ on its arms … but it’s claws made up for the lack of more digits. Researchers analyzing the fossilized claws described them as “swordlike” and razor-sharp, giving the 30 feet long, 3 ton Paralitherizinosaurus japonicus some formidable weapons for fighting. Unfortunately, those claws went to waste as weapons – this therizinosaur was a herbivore and those finger swords were used to thrash through vegetation to make a nice big salad for dinner. This was the first ever therizinosaur fossil found in Japan and the first to be found in Asia in marine sediments – the scientists think it died on a beach and was washed out to sea.
Up next is the Tartarocyon, a 440 pound (200 KG) species of bear dog (Amphicyonidae ) whose jawbone was found in France where it was a top-tier carnivore around 36 million years ago. The origin of bear dogs are as confusing as their name -- early paleontologists put them in the dog family Canidae, later researchers moved them to the bear family (bears) based on the shape pf their ears, but now it’s considered to be its own class called amphicyonids which may actually predate both bears and dogs. A unique lower premolar convinced paleontologists this Tartarocyon was a new species of bear dog. In addition to France and Europe, they roamed North America, Asia and Africa from 45 million to 8 million years ago, eating nothing but meat and occupying a high rank in the food chain until dogs appeared and outran, out-ate and out-smarted them into extinction. Incidentally, the new species of bear dog is named for Tartaro, the one-eyed giant from Basque mythology who ate humans. Fortunately, neither one is still around.
Crocodiles are already scary – now imagine a giant croc head on a giant bipedal T. rex body and you have the "White Rock spinosaurid" named for the chalky rocks on the Isle of Wight where it rampaged during the Cretaceous period 145 million to 66 million years ago. The Spinosaurus was actually bigger than T. rex and had a menacing sail-like growth on its back. The fossil fragments found are from a young spinosaurid – the youngest ever found in the U.K. where it roamed both land and lagoons. While the spinosaurs were considered to be prehistoric Europe’s biggest land predator, this young carnivore appears to have been eaten by a larger adult of another species. Paleontologists don’t have a formal name for the new species yet … how about Tyrannosaurus Crox?
Saving the best for last, a team of Egyptian and American paleontologists uncovered a huge fossilized vertebra belonging to a newly described species of meat-eating abelisaurid dinosaur – yes, another bipedal carnivore that lived during the Cretaceous period 145 million to 66 million years ago. Abelisauridae (meaning "Abel's lizards") date back to the supercontinent of Gondwana, and were later found in Africa, South America, India, Portugal, France and on the island of Madagascar. These new fossils were found in Egypt and the researchers believe it had a shortened, bulldog-like face, which gave it a ferocious appearance, and a stocky body liened to a T. rex on steroids, giving it an even more ferocious appearance. Surprisingly, abelisaurid needed that beastly body and face because it was not the biggest of the beasts in Cretaceous Egypt – the paelontologists think this stocky therapod reached only about 16 to 20 feet (5 to 6 meters) in length, but still managed to survive until the Chicxulub asteroid brought the Cretaceous period and its dinosaurs to an end.
Which brings us back to 'Jurassic World: Dominion' and the researchers working to create a real Jurassic Park for wooly mammoths, wooly rhinos, giant sloths and other extinct mammals in Siberia or other places where they romped just 20,000 years or so ago until either climate change or humans (or both) wiped them out.
"I'm sure that there are going to be kids watching 'Jurassic World: Dominion' who are going to become paleontologists or scientists because of these films."
Current paleontologist Kenneth Lacovara – who discovered and named the giant long-necked Dreadnoughtus sauropod dinosaur known as a titanosaur which is featured in the film -- told Live Science he thinks the movie special effects people did a good job depicting the 65-ton Patagonian beasts. Fortunately, no Dreadnoughtus DNA has been found, but it’s a short step from movie dinosaur parks to real ones as soon as it eventually is discovered in a form that can be used for de-extinction. While resurrecting mammoths and sloths sounds zoo-ish, doing the same with the giant creatures found recently sounds terrifying. There’s a good reason why “Dreadnoughtus" popped into Kenneth Lacovara’s head when he extrapolated those fossils into a living, stomping, 65-ton monster in need of meat, meat and more meat.
Should there be an age limit on movies like ‘Jurassic World: Dominion’ so that kids aren’t inspired to create real dinosaur parks? What about just banning kids who want to be paleontologists?
Or is it too late?