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Apparently sex, not Red Bull, gives you wings. But I say fossils are Rorschach inkblots for paleontologists. Before you read this article, spend a moment to hypnotically stare into the image above and ask yourself what you see …

 

Recent research published in the journal Science indicates that the origins of flight might have had nothing to do with the desire to escape land based predators or carry out bombing raids on foreign soil, rather it might have had more to do with sexual attraction.

The researchers led by Frank Hadfield of Palcoprep in Alberta, Canada discovered that certain 70 million year old dinosaurs appear to be covered by a fine downy like layer throughout their life but then sometime around or after puberty they sprout a wing like structure. In their flight of fancy the paleontologists suggest that because the ‘wing’ does not appear until adulthood it has thereby evolved not for flight, but fancy.

But are they correct? If published in Science then the research must have been open to the most rigorous of peer review criticism … but sometimes peers are not the best of critics. Sometimes people who know nothing at all about what you are talking, who glaze over at the very mention of your name, sometimes they are the best critics. For it is only from above the Petri dish that one can understand what goes on within it.

If those appendages that develop only during or after puberty are objects of sexual attraction or function then I suppose those hairs that have moved from my head to my ears must be the most arousing of sights. Are tumours sexual?

This latest ornithomimosaur (ornitho = bird, mimo = mimic, saur = reptile) finding pushes back the beginnings of the evolution of flight by a lazy 10 million years. Clearly some fossil freak was way off. But the truly remarkable conclusion of this research is that flight might have evolved only secondarily to the desperate need to sprout fluffy feathery stumps.

Why on earth such transvestite-like stumps were sought after in the seedy after dark ornithomimosaur world is not yet understood. All the other dinosaurs were quite content with massive teeth, blood curdling screams, beady eyes, horns, spikes through their tails, and other medieval appendages. One can only imagine that paternal old-school Tyrannosaurus rex and the local Triceratops gang would have had a very difficult time adjusting to the arrival of these extroverted metrosexual hipster pansies flapping about with their downy skin and long eyelashes.

Sexual repression incarnate

The researchers base their findings on a grand total of three 70 million year old ornithomimosaur fossils. Two large (adults) and one small (infant). The large had the wings, the small did not.

Is it not even remotely conceivable that maybe, just maybe, the large one with wings was a different species to the small one without? Or maybe the small one lost his wings after precipitating over a cliff in a vain attempt to boost his 150 kg body into the air. Or perhaps like hunters who kill elephants only for their tusks, the T.rex might have considered the ornithomimosaur wings a delicacy, especially the succulent wings of the young. After all, this young ornithomimosaur is a fossil for a reason. Or perhaps T. rex was smarter than we give him credit and he was actually farming these ornithomimosaurs. Perhaps they were kept in pens, and to prevent them from escaping he clipped their wings and fattened them up for a rainy day. Clearly these ‘possibilities’ are rather silly, but not much more than sex giving you wings.

Just how much should we believe these stories of fossilised sex crazed fluffy dinosaurs? Is the grand venture of flight really all about sex? Were these guys truly the wannabee mile-high clubbers of the Cretaceous?

As usual we can all blame Freud, as ever since he started spouting about ego-driven sexual repression people have attributed everything to sexual desire. How many times at the pub have you heard some under-sexed evolution geek argue that everything we do is in preparation for reproduction, or at least the act of reproduction (without the crying thing at the end)? Now Freud’s legacy is such that even the most advanced technological adaptation ever, flight itself, is suggested to amount to little more than cabaret foreplay.

I say it is an insult to evolution to suggest that something that took us all-mighty humans millennia to technologically master, was first the dinosaur equivalent of a Hefner-esque half open bath robe with a cigar poking eagerly from within.

Leonardo da Vinci’s mechanical wing device (circa 1485)

I wonder if Leonardo da Vinci had been involved in such a pub discussion before he drew up the plans for his magical flying machines. Granted they did not have feathers, which may be why they never flew, but one can only expect that certain Florentine Renaissance girls (and/or boys) would have been enamored by his flightiness if they had.

So yes, we can posit a reductionist argument that everything evolutionary is by definition an adaptation for enhancement of reproduction. But sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. So let us leave such things in the pub where they belong, or at least they did until all these smoking bans. Let us loftily pretend that the evolution of flight serves an individual desire to escape society and be entirely free of the cumbersome shackles of the dating game (insert foreigner attraction).

With this in mind let us actually see what these paleontologist fossils are all excited about as they forage about in the dust on their hands and knees … see fossil picture below … … … …What’s that? Did somebody say Rorschach?

Rorschach fossil

The reality is that when paleontologists analyse fossils they are effectively left alone to determine what they see within the image. Thus they are like a psych patient interpreting a 70 million year old Rorschach inkblot, but without Dr. Hermann sitting behind taking notes and interpreting thoughts. Who are they to be the sole determinants of their own minds? Do we need to see into their minds in order to understand what they say they see in the fossils?

Where paleontologists see fluffy dinosaurs with wings in the ink blot, I might see a vicious one with tiny little razor blades emanating from every edifice and wing-like weapons of mass destruction that can sprout from their arms when threatened by stampeding Triceratops.

To complicate matters further, fossils themselves are only impressions. They are like footprints, they are not the foot. So what the researchers make of the Rorschach fossils are really just impressions of impressions with nobody to give their impression of those impressions.

These researcher’s suggestion that flight might have evolved secondarily to sexual attraction tells us far more about the researchers than it will ever tell us about therapods and their sexual proclivities. Smoke the cigar, don’t suck it.

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