Thursday, November 27, 2014

What Jurassic World Has Gotten Wrong About Wildlife So Far....


    In case you have been living under a rock the last few days, the trailer for the upcoming Jurassic World has just been released, you can check it out below.

    The Jurassic Park series is close to the heart of a generation of wildlife biologists and paleontologists, but that doesn't mean it is immune from criticism. Hey, if you're going to make a movie about dinosaurs and science, you should get both right! Well, I suppose they don't need to get everything right, it is a science-fiction movie after all, but it is our responsibility to point out where the movie is being inconsistent with the wildlife science (and don't call anyone nerds for doing so!).

    Most of the criticism so far has focused on the trailer, but before we get into that I want to note that a website that was created for the company that runs Jurassic World (the Masrani Corporation) says that the most common animal on Isla Nublar (a fictional Costa Rican island and site of Jurassic World) is the Nublar Tufted Deer (Elaphodus cephalophus nublaris). First off, there's no such thing as that subspecies (you can tell the subspecies by the third name) and second, all Tufted Deer (Elaphodus) are from Asia, not North, South, or Central America.

    Over on his Biodiversity on Focus blog, University of Guelph entomologist Morgan Jackson takes Jurassic World to task for once again not being able to distinguish between Crane Flies (which do not suck blood and are therefore unsuitable candidates for obtaining dinosaur DNA) and mosquitoes. You would think they'd get this right after the wrong insects they used in the first Jurassic Park movie!

    Do you know that scene where they feed the shark to the big aquatic beast? Well, that was a Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias) and, based on the United Nations Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), they are a protected species. In other words, notes Rick MacPherson on the Deep Sea News blog, Jurassic World may be violating international law by feeding Great White Sharks to their animals. Update 11/28: The Jurassic World website now indicates that a feeding like this occurs every two hours! That is a lot of protected sharks being made into dinosaur chow. Second update: this interview with director Colin Trevorrow reveals that the sharks are clones! So that is how they stayed out of trouble.

    Well, I should make clear that the beast that eats the Great White Shark is not actually a dinosaur, it is a mosasaurus. And, as Darren Naish has noted on Twitter, that means it should probably have a forked tongue and no frill down its back.

    Did you know that best available evidence is now pretty clear that dinosaurs had feathers? So, to be scientifically accurate the dinosaurs in Jurassic World shouldn't be so...naked! Brian Switek summarized the issue last year and everything he wrote is as relevant as ever.

Update 11/28 As more information on the Jurassic World website gets released, we have more to critique!

    John is right and Jurassic World is wrong! The first Tyrannosaurus rex was not named Sue! The first T-rex specimen was discovered within the first few years of the 20th century and Sue was found about 85 years later, in 1990. Sue is notable because she is so complete and well-preserved.

Update 11/29

    The Jurassic World website has rotating "Did You Know?" facts that provide some questionable dinosaur information. For example, one of the facts is that, "Dinosaurs are both hot and cold-blooded. Usually carnivores are hot; herbivores run cold."

    The mortal sin here is their use of "hot" and "cold-blooded". In the past, we used "cold-blooded" to refer to things like reptiles and amphibians because they relied on the external environment to regulate their body temperature. That is why you see snakes and turtles basking, they are using the sun to warm up. On the other hand, animals like mammals (including us) have a metabolism that converts what we eat into heat and energy, we used to call ourselves "warm-blooded". We do not do that anymore. Recent studies have shown that the animals we used to call "cold-blooded" really aren't that cold. In fact, just by positioning their body in relation to the sun, some reptiles can keep their body temperature warmer than we can, and with more precision! So, we now used "ectothermic" instead of "cold-blooded" and "endothermic" instead of "warm-blooded".

    That is not the only reason that the words used in this Jurassic World fact are a little off. Are they saying that each dinosaur species has a metabolism that is somewhere in the middle of endothermy and ectothermy or that some dinosaur species are ectothermic and some are endothermic? Saying that carnivores are usually hot and herbivores run cold does not really clear it up, because they could again be talking about, for example, how one carnivorous dinosaur is usually hot but sometimes cold, or they could talking about how most carnivorous dinosaur species are endothermic and just a few are ectothermic.

    Whatever the meaning, the science does not conclusively support the statements, at least not yet. It is a topic of some debate. Assuming they did not generate this information from Jurassic Park scientists in the Jurassic World universe, I think they based it on this summary of a paper that was published in 2013 that provided evidence that dinosaurs probably were not cold-blooded. There is a mention in this summary about how carnivorous and herbivorous dinosaurs might be different (I couldn't find that distinction in the actual scientific paper though). In any case, more recent work has suggested it is probably not accurate to think of dinosaurs as either strictly endothermic or ectothermic, and they could have a hybrid system, not unlike Leatherback Sea Turtles or Bluefin Tuna.

    I went to Twitter to confirm my interpretation and asked Brian Switek to comment.

    In other words, we do not have a definitive answer yet but the situation is probably a little more complicated than Jurassic World would have us believe.

Update 12/1

    Over on the Symbiartic blog, Glendon Mellow points out that Jurassic World is borrowing (i.e., stealing) artwork for their trailer (and movie, presumably) but also observes that the DNA shown in the lab is backwards! DNA is not left-handed.

    Have you noticed problems with any of the Jurassic World information being released that has not been talked about yet? Describe below!

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