Title text: Click to see a video of a modern bird using stability flapping during predatory behavior. It all fits! Also, apparently Microraptor had *four* wings? The past keeps getting cooler! (And there's more of it every day!)
Dinosaurs have been a fascinating topic in popular science and have captivated children's interest since the first fossils were discovered in modern times, around the 1700s; prior discoveries in China and elsewhere were thought to be the bones of dragons or other mythical creatures. The success of the Jurassic Park movies perpetuated an erroneous understanding of the physical characteristics of dinosaurs. Since the first movie of that series, scientific evidence has emerged suggesting that Dromaeosauridae, or "raptors", the main antagonists of that movie, looked quite different from their animatronic and CGI versions. In particular, they are now known to have been much smaller, and are believed to have had feathers and even wings, as evidenced by quill nobs observed on the arms of raptors.
Denver W. Fowler is among the scientists who support this hypothesis. (incidentally, a "Fowler" is a hunter of wildfowl/birds) The comic refers to a publication by him and his colleagues ("et al."), in the PLoS ONE, an online scientific journal ("PLoS" stands for "Public Library of Science").
Megan believes this new model of the appearance of raptors makes them much less cool, but the way in which Jill reformulates the facts to make them seem like even more vicious predators re-ignites her interest and makes the new raptors seem like at least as good a candidate for a good action thriller movie like the original version, if not better. Thus, the phrase "the past keeps getting cooler". (Or that Megan, like Randall, has an irrational fear of raptors and is updating her knowledge of them.)
Clicking on the original cartoon links to a YouTube video of a bird of prey (in this case a Secretarybird) using its wings for stability while standing on top of a struggling prey, from which one can easily envision instead a raptor upon its prey—especially in case of some kind of "raptorphobia", as for Randall (see 87: Velociraptors and 135: Substitute). Microraptor was a small raptor with four wings, which lets you imagine even scarier scenes.
The same idea is later explored from a different perspective in 1527: Humans.
- [Megan is walking up to Jill with a bow in her hair bun. Jill has a stack of three books in front of her, is reading another book and a fifth book lies behind her on the floor.]
- Megan: What are you reading about?
- Jill: Dinosaurs!
- Megan: Oh, yeah.
- [Zoom out of the same scene, with Megan standing and Jill looking up at her.]
- Megan: They've gotten all weird since when I was a kid.
- Megan: They used to be awesome, but now they all have dorky feathers, right?
- Jill: Yup!
- [Same scene in a frame-less panel. Jill looks down and below the two characters there is a footnote.]
- Jill: This says they now think raptors used their wings for stability, flapping to stay on top of their prey while hanging on with their hooked claws and eating it alive.
- *Fowler et. al., PLoS ONE 6(12), 2011
- [Zoom in on the same scene, the book on the floor is outside the panel. Megan just stands staring at Jill who reads on. Beat panel.]
- [Megan is now on the floor next to Jill flipping through the top book she has taken from the pile.]
- In the comic it says "et. al." instead of the correct "et al.", this is a common mistake.
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