Almost, but not quite, entirely unlike a squirrel

6 November 2011


Tortured analogies, dissimiles and overwhelming exceptions are pretty much par for the course in the paleo-press. From the weirdly enduring characterization of plesiosaurs as “snakes drawn through the body of a turtle” (and that analogy is a story in itself but I’ll try to stay focussed here), to the hilariously grandineloquent attempts to explain what a raoellid looked like that flooded the media a few years ago its enough to make a baraminologist’s head explode.

And if you thought that was a clunky bit of exposition check out the first paragraph of this story from NPR about the recently described (and awesomely named) dryolestoid Cronopio from the Late Cretaceous of South America:

Imagine a critter about the size of a squirrel. Imagine it with big eyes and a long snout. Now imagine it with canine fangs about one-fifth the length of its head. That’s the kind of a mammal that scientists said today was walking among dinosaurs more than 100 million years ago.

Calls to mind that old riddle:

Q: How is a raven like a writing desk?

A: Neither have handle bars.

Or something like that.

And speaking of Poe, sorta, NPR doubly drops the balls by not seizing the opportunity to introduce us to Julio Cortázar, the Argentine author whose cronopios, those “greenish, fizzly, wet objects,” loan their name to the newly described Mesozoic mammal. Instead we get a hyperlink non-sequitur to some Livescience schlockalism about cryptids. Complete with broken image links … ooh “king cheetah” those are cryptic.

Not that I don’t sympathize. Dryolestoids really are like brave firemen, dysfunctional politicians, or shallow Kardashians … with sabre-teeth. These small, largely insectivorous mammals pretty much embody the traditional view that Mesozoic mammals were retiring, shrew-like animals that spent the majority of their time not getting stepped on by terrible, really horrible, lizards. The reality turns out to be rather more interesting, but with things like Repenomamus, Volaticotherium or Castorocauda to freak out about it is easy to forget that a substantial portion of Mesozoic mammals really were skittering little bug-eaters.

As are many today. Not that that makes them boring. I mean, dude, man, tenrecs! Solenodons! Shrew caravans! Mother fucking boogie-boogie hedgehogs!

I mean, I get it. Most people have seen Ice Age. Tragically few know what a solenodon is. Almost nobody has any fucking clue what a dryolestoid is. But here a chance to attack that latter deficiency is more or less squandered by a lazy pop-culture reference.

And, for that matter, why don’t we have more major motion pictures starring solenodons? I mean, Dreamworks, really? Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted? That doesn’t even make any sense. Hey Jeff, let’s just scrap this Madagascar 4 nonsense and go full bore into this Hispañola project I was telling you about. Toussaint the solendon (I’m thinking Ed Norton), survives a scary run-in with a vodou practicing gigantic barn owl and feuds with a hutia named Duarte (I was thinking Patton Oswalt but maybe that’s too on the nose? Jonah Hill?) before the two set their differences aside and team up to spearhead a major reforestation initiative that improves air and water quality across the island. Think Fern Gully meets Princess Mononoke. I smell Oscar….

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