Science fiction research, dinosaur sex, and hobbits

I thought I would take a break from some research I’m doing for a science fiction story set among our solar system’s gas giants—no, I don’t mean the flatulent guy spilling his excess adipose tissue over into your seat on the plane—to post a comment on something I saw in the April 2013 Scientific American.

It’s about dinosaurs. And sex. How exactly did they . . . you know?

You’ll notice that Stephen Spielberg didn’t go within an astronomical unit of this one when he made Jurassic Park. Eggs hatching are cute and G-rated. Animals bigger than a double-decker bus getting it on, possibly with violence and spurting body fluids and a lot of screaming, might not be stuff that ticket-buying adults would want to take kiddies to see at the multiplex.

When an animal dies, the odds are way against—I mean the odds of winning a major lottery against—it winding up as a fossil. However, given enough deaths or lottery tickets sold, somebody will eventually get lucky.

If becoming a fossil is your career goal, it’s a good idea to get yourself buried in a landslide or a big fall of volcanic ash or to drop dead and fall into a nice marsh where you quickly get covered by mud that nobody is going to disturb for so long that it turns into rock. When somebody digs you up—not great odds there, either—it’s probably your bones and teeth that will still be relatively intact. Soft tissue usually (exceptions) decays and disappears without a trace.

The, um, parts that dinosaurs might have worn panties or shorts over if they had invented underwear were soft tissue, the first thing that disappears. We don’t have a lot to work with on the parts that weren’t bones and teeth, although there are some clues. Just for starters, since the first Jurassic Park film, evidence has piled up supporting the idea that some dinosaurs had feathers. Maybe most dinosaurs did.

The resemblance to modern birds is more than skin or feather deep. I don’t want to get into the details, but let’s just note that the anatomy of T. Rex was enough like a bird to convince some serious people that even if T. Rex wasn’t more or less just a gigantic, seriously pissed-off chicken, then he and his mom and his Uncle Frank were at least kissing cousins to the pigeons who like to drop white goop on your parked car.

I’m trying to keep the post no more than PG rated, so how can I put this next bit? Perhaps I should just say that in most modern bird species the naughty parts of both sexes are very similar on the outside. (If you’re curious and over 18, look up the term “cloaca.”)

In other words, by human standards, everybody in most bird species looks female down there. To mate, the consenting adult parties sort of . . . kiss their parts. Their close relatives, the dinosaurs, may have done exactly the same thing.

Imagine multi-ton dinosaurs, some of them with enormous, semi-rigid tails, trying to cope with the mechanics of that. The mind boggles.

To make it even more interesting, a few bird species have males with external parts that, unlike most of their feathered relatives and Ken dolls, would call for jockey shorts rather than panties. This may have been true of dinosaurs as well.

So if you’re trying to write 50 Shades of Jurassic Gray, what do you do for the dinosaur sex scenes? Guess?

One reason that many writers prefer fantasy to hard science fiction is that you don’t have to worry about pesky facts getting in the way. I mean, nobody was going to come along and tell J. R. R. Tolkien that somebody just dug up a Hobbit, and it didn’t match the description in Tolkien’s book.

Then again . . .







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