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Cold-bloods versus the fabulous furballs


If all the bad-mouthing of reptiles came from bar-hopping mammal paleontologists emboldened by one too many beers, or the mystic musings left over from the Middle Ages, (Realistic dinosaur model)I wouldn't be much disturbed. But when the dean of reptile paleontologists, the late Al Romer of Harvard, wrote about the superiority of mammalness over the reptile condition, it made me shudder. Alfred Sherwood Romer did some superb and innovative research on the hind-limb muscles of dinosaurs in the late 1920s, showing that the thighs of duckbills operated more like those of giant birds than those of giant crocodiles. (animatronic dinosaur)But dinosaurs were a minor diversion in Romer's long and distinguished career. He spent most of his field seasons, first in Texas, later in Brazil and Argentina, digging up mammal-like reptiles, a diverse lot of vertebrates that bridge the structural gap between a primitive lizardlike reptile and a genuine furry, milk-sucking mammal.


Romer inherited from his mentor, the magisterial anatomist William King Gregory, a passion for reconstructing, step by step, the evolutionary pathway that led from the first sprawling reptile of the Coal Age, 300 million years ago, to the first bona fide mammal, something that would look like a tiny 'possum, which emerged at the end of the Triassic. For Romer and Gregory, clearly the proper study for man was Mankind. (walking dinosaur costume)Therefore the most important life thread in geological history was our own, leading backward through the Age of Mammals to the tiny, scurrying Mesozoic mammals and thence through all the successive stages of mammallike reptiles. (realistic dinosaur costume)Gregory wrote a delightful evolutionary essay for the lay person, "Our Face from Fish to Man," which expressed elegantly the preoccupation with the single evolutionary trackway leading upward through the strata to the Mammalia and to Homo sapiens. Both Romer and Gregory did study what were perceived as evolutionary sideshows—Romer wrote about Coal Age amphibians with flattened, shovel-like heads, and Gregory executed definitive treatises about sailfish—but both scholars were true to their own class, the Mammalia, when it came to allocating the bulk of their labors.

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