It is indisputable that nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution, but...

...nothing in evolution makes sense except in the light of Plate Tectonics.

26 August, 2009

Taxonomy

Why do we have such a love of despising ourselves?

We try to belittle the human species at every possible juncture of thought.
Back in the '70s there was that series of books/movies which stated, quite emphatically, that humans MUST have had extra-terrstrial assistance to achieve the things we have.

Personally, I like to take credit for our own accomplishments rather than make up an unprovable entity to credit.

This kind of self-disparagement comes in all forms. My favourite (least favourite) is the perennial comparison of the species longevity of human-kind as compared with, what else - Dinosaurs. That paragon of all life forms - it inspires awe, wonder, fear. We consider them almost god-like.

Why? Because some of them were big?

Let's look at this one closely. What we hear is: "Dinosuars - (imagine Walter Cronkite's voice here) - one of the most successful life forms which have ever lived on planet Earth. They ruled supreme for 140 MILLION YEARS. Humans, by comparison have been on Earth for a mere 200 THOUSAND YEARS - 700 times more brief.

Quite correct, as far as it goes. But how far is that? Let's compare dinosaurs and humans using the most dispassionate system available - the taxa:

Here's the dinosaurs (in simplified form):

Kingdom: Animalia (animals)
Phylum: Chordata (having a hollow nerve chord ending in a brain)
Class: Archosauria (diapsids with socket-set teeth, etc.)
Subclass: Ornithodira (dinosaurs and pterosaurs)
Superorder: Dinosauria (dinosaurs)
Order: Saurischia and Ornithischia (based on hip structure)
We can go further using everyone's favourite T.Rex:
Family: Therapoda
Genus: Tyranosaurus
Species: rex

There were other tyrannosaurids

OK? What about humans:

Kingdom: Aminalia
Phylum: Chordata - so far so good
Class: Mammalia
Sub-Class: Placental
Order: Primates
Family: Hominidae
Genus: Homo
Species: sapiens

So - a comparison of dinosaurs to humans compares the ORDER (Super-order) to a species.

Is that legal? Is it cricket?

Let's do two comparisons: Let's look at T. rex vs humans - species to species.

T. rex lived for the last couple million years (at most) at the end of the Cretaceous Period. Anatomically modern humans have been around for only a couple hundred thousand years - OK but we are still going. But here's the kick. T. rex lived in a small geographic area in the North American west - the Dakotas, Montana and the adjacent areas of Canada. We live EVERYWHERE.

Now how about the order dinosauria compared with the order primates.
Well - this is even better, the first primates were around at the time of the dinosaurs - and way before T. rex. When comparing apples to apples, we do pretty well.

In fact, if you tot up all of the orders of plants and animals and make a graph through time, there is only one branch which completely disappears at the end of the Mesozoin Era - you guessed it - Dinosaurs.

In fact, except for their one offshoot branch - birds - the dinosaurs were ...... LOSERS!!!!!!


They are gone - we are still here.

So tell Erik von Dannikan to take a hike - or better yet a space flight in a Chariot of the Gods - and be proud of your heritage.

You are the direct descendant of a very, very, very long line of WINNERS. Every one of your ancestors, back to the lowest pond scum, was a winner in the game of life - not one of them was unable to grow to sexual maturity, or failed to repreoduce, or didn't manage to raise its offspring to their own maturity.

Of course we didn't and don't need assistance from aliens. And no other order, family, genus, species can claim more evolutionary success than us - even crocodilians which have been around longer, have not radiated into as many habitats and different environments than primates, hominids, homos, sapiens (any stage along the taxa does well under scutiny).

So next time someone extolls the prowess of the dinosaur line, feel free to put them in their place by decrying our erstwhile planet-mates as the losers that they were. And, btw, don't buy that guff about bad luck and asteroids - just a load of fetid dingoes kidneys, but that is another post.

Here's a health to our company! Cheers
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