Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Miniature Dinosaurs on My Hilltop?

As a child I lived in the Southwest where my dad founds bits of dinosaur bone at his well sites and brought them home to me.  These bones-turned-stones gripped my imagination until I had to have a dinosaur tooth and a dinosaur coprolite (fossilized doo) in my rock collection.

When I became a mom, I dragged our two little girls to the Panhandle of Oklahoma so they could stand where dinosaurs stood.  These preserved tracks in a dry wash provided a 3-D snapshot regarding the size of the monstrous creature that left this trail. My daughters’ tiny feet were freckles on those tracks outside Kenton, Oklahoma.  Then they discovered that no matter how far they stretched their little legs, they couldn’t take a step as big as a dinosaur could. Even my extra-long legs didn’t match that long-dead dinosaur’s stride.

Intrigued by these ancient three-toed footprints, I decided they looked like a jillion-time magnified version of chicken prints scattered about my yard.  This made me wonder if my flock and these reptiles thundering about in my imagination did not share some similarities.

After visiting the Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center in Woodland Park, Colorado, I realized many scientists agree that dinosaurs and birds share common characteristics, including scales (bird feet); feathers in some dinosaur species; lung, skeletal, heart, digestive (gizzard stones), and  reproductive development(egg laying);  sleeping postures (head tucked under arm/wing); and brooding behaviors. 

Inspired by these common traits, my view of my cackling clan changed.  Instead of only seeing egg-laying machines roaming the yard snagging tasty insects to recycle into golden yolks, I saw tiny dinosaurs stomping across our hilltop.

Did dinosaurs roam their habitat much like chickens do, alert to the slightest motion of a food source? Were some of these vanished reptiles as easy to please as my hens about what they ate?  The girls love their grain, veggies, a crunchy grasshopper, or a stale slice of bread. However, if one of them spies a mouse in the chicken house or yard, chaos erupts as they fight to devour fresh meat.

Did dinosaurs go to roost at dusk as my hens do?  If so, did a group of them gather side by side, chortling dinosaur, “Good Night, John Boys”? Did their good nights sound like supersonic versions of my flocks’ cozy bedtime clucks?

Regardless of how dinosaurs rested, hens running toward a meal reveal an ungainly two-legged, top heavy gait many short-armed dinosaurs shared.  The girls’ epic food battles provide a glimpse of the noise and violence one would experience watching a dinosaur food fight. I wonder if those monstrous beasts wiped their food-crusted mouths back and forth across the landscape as my chickens do to remove beak gunk.

My feathered ladies’ conscientious nesting and brooding over tiny fluff-ball young exhibit a tenderness that would be amazing magnified in much larger dinosaurs.

Dinosaurs may be extinct, but my flock provides an opportunity to imagine those reptiles in their world. Seeing my hens’ three-toed prints in mud leaves me wondering whether a future paleontologist will wonder what kind of dinosaurs lived on my hilltop.

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