In case you missed the stink in the press last month, a couple of British scientists who can’t discuss their findings at dinner have the beginnings of a new theory on why the dinosaurs died out.
They all had gas.
The original study appeared recently in the journal Current Biology, and it was conducted by researchers Dave Wilkinson of Liverpool John Moores University, Graeme Ruxton of the University of St. Andrews, and Euan Nisbet at the University of London.
Myriad media outlets picked up the story, hurrying through the facts in favor of exhausting 65 million years’ worth of flatulence-related quips.
Oh, how I wish there was fossilized evidence of farts. The study actually has almost nothing to do with paleontology, except for the fact that it’s making conjectures about an extinct ecosystem. Uber-scientific calculations guess how much gas the dinosaurs collectively blasted by formulas based on the modern cow’s output, applied to the size, diet and projected populations of herbivorous dinosaurs.
Here’s the deal.
As large-ish vegetation eaters, modern cows and their brethren are toot machines, contributing a significant amount of methane to the air surrounding this little globe of ours.
Methane traps heat in our atmosphere far more than carbon dioxide does.
If cows are methane machines, imagine how much gas the average Apatosaurus passed.
Back in the Jurassic, the world was warming up.
The dinosaurs died out, possibly because of a warming climate.
Ergo, unbridled farting, and not a catastrophic meteorite, may have snuffed out the dinosaurs.
Unfortunately, since this study hit the media, fresh jokes about death by farting have gone extinct and excavating any of them is not the point of this blog post.
Self-appointed experts, commenting on these stories online, have of course dragged a range of tangential discourse to light, including arguments over the difference between a meteor and a meteorite, whether or not we should compare cows to dinosaurs, the validity of the term “brontosaurus”, creationism, and whether or not global warming is a hoax generated by liberals.
But I would like to extend our meditations here still further. Specifically, if excessive sauropod farts did, in fact, prove fatal to those majestic reptiles, what other mysteries might we solve with the help of the dino fart hypothesis?
Perhaps, lucky for us, early extraterrestrial visitors found the atmosphere intolerable.
Or perhaps it was the danger of the seas, and not the allure of the land, that first brought earth’s creatures to the shore.
Would you want to stay in the ocean if the plesiosaurs were turning it into one giant Jacuzzi?
Here, I’m compelled to add that during a family vacation in Florida when I was a child, I crossed a bridge in an animal park with my dad. We were delighted to spot a mountainous gray manatee cruising just below us, and ecstatic when it honored us with an unmistakable burst of bubbles.
Perhaps, given the revelations of this latest dinosaur study, it would behoove Nessie enthusiasts to look out for mysterious gouts of bubbles in the Loch.
What other mysteries can dino fart theories help us solve?