Paleontology on the New York subway

Sterling J. Nesbitt, a graduate student in paleontology, recently took the Manhattan subway to the stop that lies beneath the American Museum of Natural History. While waiting on the platform, he checked out a way-cool bronze cast, displayed on the wall, of a Coelophysis bauri, a predatory dinosaur. Pictured above, the cast is wonderfully detailed, and even shows the contents of the dinosaur’s last meal. Paleontologists have long assumed that meal was cannibalistic: The Coelophysis had eaten one of its own.

But when Nesbitt looked at it, he realized they were wrong. The femur lodged in the dinosaur’s stomach was that of a small crocodile.

Duly inspired, Nesbitt worked up a paper reporting his findings, which was published last week in Biology Letters of the Royal Society of London. And apparently he’s now upended the cannibalism consensus regarding Coelophysis. As he told the New York Times:

“Our research shows that the evidence for cannibalism in Coelophysis is nonexistent,” Mr. Nesbitt said in an interview, “and the evidence for cannibalism in other dinosaurs is quite thin.”

I love it. Pioneering paleontological research, conducted in the New York subway system! Now somebody should look into CHUDs.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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