Well, it’s almost Thanksgiving, so a story combining raccoons and turkey seems appropriate. Much more so than some recipe for roasted raccoon for Thanksgiving dinner. Anyway, it turns out that paleontology delivered up just the right thing for the season! The gist of it is that once upon a time, roughly 126 million years ago, there were critters called sinosauropteryx. Roughly the size of a modern turkey, about four feet in length and weighing a dozen pounds, these animals were covered in a frizzy coat of feathers that featured a ringed tale and masked eyes. Of course, evolutionary speaking, dinosaurs became modern birds, so this creature would have no relation to the lovable modern mammals. That being the case, the similar characteristics are examples of convergent evolution. The striping is a means of disrupting predators’ ability to perceive the animals in grassy areas and the “mask” is to reduce glare. Interestingly, they were able to determine these characteristics because the darker feathers were actually preserved in the fossil record, due to the extra melanin they contained. The first fossils of these animals were found in 1996, which strikes me as weird because the revelation that dinosaurs were feathered seemed like a more recent development to me.
Source: The New York Times
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