What Bugged the Dinosaurs?: Insects, Disease, and Death in the Cretaceousby George Poinar, Roberta Poinar, George O. Poinar
Millions of years ago in the Cretaceous period, the mighty Tyrannosaurus rexwith its dagger-like teeth for tearing its prey to ribbonswas undoubtedly the fiercest carnivore to roam the Earth. Yet as What Bugged the Dinosaurs? reveals, T. rex was not the only killer. George and Roberta Poinar show how insectsfrom biting sand flies to disease/i>
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Millions of years ago in the Cretaceous period, the mighty Tyrannosaurus rexwith its dagger-like teeth for tearing its prey to ribbonswas undoubtedly the fiercest carnivore to roam the Earth. Yet as What Bugged the Dinosaurs? reveals, T. rex was not the only killer. George and Roberta Poinar show how insectsfrom biting sand flies to disease-causing parasitesdominated life on the planet and played a significant role in the life and death of the dinosaurs.
The Poinars bring the age of the dinosaurs marvelously to life. Analyzing exotic insects fossilized in Cretaceous amber at three major deposits in Lebanon, Burma, and Canada, they reconstruct the complex ecology of a hostile prehistoric world inhabited by voracious swarms of insects. The Poinars draw upon tantalizing new evidence from their amazing discoveries of disease-producing vertebrate pathogens in Cretaceous blood-sucking flies, as well as intestinal worms and protozoa found in fossilized dinosaur excrement, to provide a unique view of how insects infected with malaria, leishmania, and other pathogens, together with intestinal parasites, could have devastated dinosaur populations.
A scientific adventure story from the authors whose research inspired Jurassic Park, What Bugged the Dinosaurs?? offers compelling evidence of how insects directly and indirectly contributed to the dinosaurs' demise.
There are many theories about what factors ultimately caused the mass extinction of non-avian dinosaurs at the close of the Cretaceous period 65.5 million years ago. . . . Using amber-preserved fossils from the Cretaceous period, George Poinar and Roberta Poinar focus on insects and other invertebrates. The brief, well-written chapters each discuss certain arthopods (or parasitic worms). . . . Some accounts are not for the squeamish, but they all fascinate. . . . Valuable for all ecology students.
"[A] detailed study of insects' role in the life and extinction of Cretaceous plants and animals. In scientific but straightforward language, the Poinars advance convincingly the thesis that insects acted as vectors for pathogens, spreading bacteria, fungi and viruses to plants as well as dinosaurs, who then passed it on to others. Using current examples like Dutch elm disease, speculative scenarios of Cretaceous life and plenty of research data, the authors add an intriguing new dimension to the dinosaur apocalypse narrative: periods of temperature change, marine regression, volcanic eruptions, and one or more meteor impacts. . . . A perfect setting for the spread of diseases."Publishers Weekly
"Dinosaurs are usually portrayed as the pristine masters of the Cretaceous. George and Roberta Poinar's new book presents a different viewdinosaurs besieged by swarms of insects; dinosaurs with oozing, infected bites; dinosaurs weakened by parasite-induced illnesses. What Bugged the Dinosaurs? draws on the Poinars' many studies of fossils in amber to show how dinosaurs interacted with their more abundant invertebrate contemporaries. Reconstructing ancient ecosystems is an ambitious undertaking. Integrative approaches such as those in What Bugged the Dinosaurs? help us build up more sophisticated visions of the past."Karen Chin,Nature
"Whether or not you accept the authors' conclusion, they make a strong case that the true rulers of the Cretaceous were not the big lizards that towered over the landscape, but the tiny buggers that pervaded it."Laurence A. Marschall, Natural History
"What Bugged the Dinosaurs tells the story of insects' tremendous impact on Cretaceous ecosystems...There are fascinating chapters on the evolution of pathogens, what makes insects 'the ultimate survivors,' and the nature of extinctions...The scientific and, at times, technical, subject of this book is complemented by an often colorful narrative style...worthwhile for lay readers as well as experts."Aaron Brooks, ForeWord Magazine
"The Poinars graphically detail the probably diseases, debilitations, and deaths of dinosaurs from the life-cycle perspective of insects that infested them. The Poinars directly encourage younger readers by emphasizing how wide open paleoentomology is to future researchers. They impart enthusiasm in recounting their own discoveries...a mood supported by this book's several dozen photographs and drawings. Showing dinosaurs beleaguered, the Poinars temper the popular image of their dominance."Gilbert Taylor, Booklist
"Thanks to the astonishingly detailed evidence provided by insects trapped in amber, we know that insects competed with dinosaurs for food preyed on them, scavenged their corpses and cleared away their droppings. Most importantly perhaps, they infected them with thousands of different diseases and parasites. The authors...even go so far as to argue that these diseases may have been the killing blow that finally pushed the dinosaurs into extinction. [What Bugged the Dinosaurs?] does an excellent job of bringing to life the mini-beasts of the Mesozoic."Luis Villazon, BBC Focus Magazine
"The book deftly guides readers through the science essential to understanding...that it is impossible to describe life in the Cretaceous Period without paying particular attention to insects. Chapter by chapter, the authors introduce a wide range of insect species that bite, swarm, irritate, and even take up residence within and on the dinosaurs. They draw their stories from the fossil record, especially the amber of their expertise, comparing Cretaceous insects with their present-day descendents. Readers follow the authors into the laboratory where they analyze delicate evidence in the form of magnificent color images. Readers who love paleontology will feel the same way about this remarkable book, savoring its fascinating trove of questions and knowledge."Fred Bortz, Philadelphia Inquirer
"The Poinars bring the age of the dinosaurs incredibly to life. Analyzing exotic insects fossilized in Cretaceous amber . . . they reconstruct the complex ecology of a hostile prehistoric world inhabited by voracious swarms of insects. The Poinars draw upon tantalizing new evidence . . . to provide a unique view of how insects infected with malaria, leishmania, and other pathogens . . . could have devastated dinosaur populations. This is a scientific adventure story from the authors whose research inspired Jurassic Park. . . . A fine book full of information found nowhere else."Prehistoric Times
"The reader...will come away from this volume fully accepting of its premise. We will certainly add this thesis to our own compendium because of the evidence presented by the Poinars. What Bugged the Dinosaurs? is positioned to be a definitive treatise that should be a part of any serious paleontologist's library."Greg Sweatt, Fossil News
"There are many theories about what factors ultimately caused the mass extinction of non-avian dinosaurs at the close of the Cretaceous period 65.5 million years ago. . . . Using amber-preserved fossils from the Cretaceous period, George Poinar and Roberta Poinar focus on insects and other invertebrates. The brief, well-written chapters each discuss certain arthopods (or parasitic worms). . . . Some accounts are not for the squeamish, but they all fascinate. . . . Valuable for all ecology students."J. C. Kricher, Wheaton College, for CHOICE
"This is an assiduously written book for entomologists and parasitologists who would like to learn more on the time-encapsulated data from the Cretaceous, and perhaps stimulate the search for more 'paleoparasites.'"Raymond L. Jacobson, Parasites and Vectors
"This is an enlightening read."Wildlife Activist
"This volume is not simply a dry exposition of an interesting theory. Good descriptive writing makes the ancient landscape the authors explore come alive. The book is highly recommended for undergraduate and graduate collections and public libraries."Bruce E. Fleury, Science Books & Film
"I would certainly recommend this book to anyone interested in dinosaurs and prehistoric life in general. It has changed the way I imagine the Cretaceous and the extinction of the dinosaurs and I am sure it will open up new avenues of thought in this area."Lucy Goodchild, Microbiology Today
Laurence A. Marschall
Raymond L. Jacobson
Bruce E. Fleury
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Read an ExcerptWhat Bugged the Dinosaurs? Insects, Disease, and Death in the Cretaceous
By George Poinar, Jr. Roberta Poinar Princeton University Press
Copyright © 2008 Princeton University Press
All right reserved.
Introduction The surviving members of a herd of ornithopod dinosaurs grazed along the edge of a Cretaceous conifer forest. It had been a particularly hard and long dry season. A few individuals fed sporadically on the parched sedges and horsetails growing near the banks of a meandering river. The river had dwindled down to a trickling stream flowing between high-cut banks. Once numbering in the hundreds, disease had now reduced the herd to less than fifty-the very young and the aged were conspicuously absent. Many of the majestic animals appeared lethargic and even were oblivious to the pack of predatory theropod dinosaurs that followed. Those fierce carnivores, armed with sharp teeth and sickle-like claws, were fat and satiated because sick herbivores made easy prey.
Ordinarily, these plant-feeding dinosaurs spent at least half of their waking hours chomping on the tender vegetation sprouting around streams or in open meadows. However, with waning appetites, the infected animals had not fed for days and stumbled along in a debilitated state. They normally avoided the direct rays of the afternoon sun, but now many stood motionless in its intense heat. Frequently they would shuffle down to the waters edge, laboriously bend down, and drink for long periods, apparentlyforgetful of the dangers posed by lurking crocodiles. Persistent diarrhea had dehydrated them and their thirst was almost insatiable. The surrounding terrain was discolored by bloody stools that attracted hordes of flies and beetles.
One trembling ornithopod, with dry skin clinging to prominent ribs and vertebrae, staggered off to one side and began to vomit strands of bloodstained mucus filled with glistening, writhing roundworms. With eyes now reduced to narrow slits, the sick individual was too exhausted to dislodge the ravenous masses of annoying insects crawling over his thin scaly skin while seeking sites to engorge themselves. When the dying animal finally collapsed, a few members of the herd came over and nudged him, but there was no response and they moved off, giving way to the advancing theropods. The carnivores started tearing away at the carcass, not realizing that they were eating infected meat and being attacked by the same insects that had previously fed on the diseased dinosaurs. Several of them, however, were beginning to show the first signs of infection and withdrew from the feeding frenzy to lie down and rest after only a few mouthfuls. As the others were devouring the remains, a contingent of mites and ticks seized the opportunity to move their residence from the corpse onto the skin of the theropods.
If an autopsy had been made on this ornithopod, it would have revealed many parasites and pathogens inhabiting the tissues. Some, like amoebic dysentery, malaria, and ascarid roundworms, would have caused lesions in the gut, liver abscesses, and distorted blood cells. But the actual cause of our dinosaur's death would have been listed as leishmaniasis, a protozoan disease. Just like the other members of the herd, he was the victim of an emerging pathogen that was decimating the Cretaceous world. Some 100 million years ago, some of these microorganisms developed novel relationships with biting flies, when the flies' previously harmless symbionts turned into deadly pathogens. In an unprecedented alliance, these insect-borne infections together with already long-established parasites became more than the dinosaurs' immune systems could handle. Sweeping epidemics began changing the herbivore-carnivore dinosaur balance that had existed for millennia. Armed with their deadly weapons, biting insects were the top predators in the food chain and could now shape the destiny of the dinosaurs just as they shape our world today.
Even as the remaining members of this herd succumbed to disease, insects were busy ensuring that the epidemic would spread. Biting flies, sucking the blood of the infirm, were collecting pathogens to inject into other victims. Because of their ability to fly, they could disperse and infect other susceptible dinosaurs within their range. Flies, beetles, and cockroaches visiting the infested feces and cadavers picked up bacteria, protozoans, and nematodes that were then carried to contaminate other vertebrates. Dinosaurs that dined on cockroaches now carrying eggs of ascarids would end up with stomach lesions.
On a larger scale, as the outbreak killed off the herbivorous dinosaurs, the balance of their ecosystem was destroyed. Carnivores may have initially benefited because the dead and dying were plentiful. The downside of this apparent bounty was that they too were becoming ill as their food supply was dwindling. In the following months as the entire ornithopod community crashed, they would face starvation. The combination of hunger and multiple infections would hasten their demise. Vegetation the ornithopods normally fed on would flourish, along with any herbivores that also utilized these plants for food. Those specialists dependent on ornithopods for survival would decline. Others would ultimately move into the niches they left vacant and life would go on. Whether populations would eventually recover depended on many factors, but insect-borne diseases were then, and still are, capable of bringing any animal to the brink of extinction.
Insects not only impact the world because of the diseases they transmit, but in innumerable other ways. They may be small but they are the most diverse group of living organisms and probably have been the most significant ecological force on land since they first arose some 350 million years ago. Insects account for over 57% of the diversity of life on earth and 76% of all animal life. Currently there are over 990,000 species known, while many more have yet to be discovered. Comparing their numbers to mammals, which comprise 0.35% of the species, only serves to accentuate their overall importance. Herbivorous insects, which make up 45% of their total species, represent about one quarter of all living species. Phytophagous forms consume significantly more plant tissue than vertebrates in every biome studied except grasslands. Indications from the fossil record confirm that this has been the case since the first terrestrial ecosystems became established. It can therefore be assumed that they were serious competitors with herbivorous dinosaurs during the Cretaceous.
About a third of all organisms on the earth are insects with carnivorous and saprophagous food preferences. Just the fact that carnivorous insects represent about 20% of animal species in the biota tells us how important they are in keeping arthropod populations in check. Predatory insects usually feed on other insects, but some have larger prey. For example, horsefly larvae have been known to kill small frogs, and large praying mantids can take down small lizards, birds, and unwary mice.
The carnivorous insects also include parasites that live on the inside or outside of their victims. A good portion subsist on the blood of animals. Collectively, these are the ones that both fascinate and horrify humans. They also instill us with fear because one bite can potentially lead to death. Biting insects transmit viruses, bacteria, protozoa, and nematodes. One of these, mosquito-borne malaria, kills over a million people each year and is the leading cause of death in children under the age of five worldwide. That means about one in fifty-six people dies every year from just this one insect-borne disease. So we furiously swat, squash, screen, and spray trying to avoid these pests. However, they always manage to find us because they have had eons to adapt to feeding on all terrestrial animals. They certainly unmercifully plagued dinosaurs just as they do us.
Normally humans wouldn't think twice about saprophagous insects-those indeterminate legions that devour dead and dying organic matter. But those that eat excrement, carrion, and detritus are a significant and necessary component of our world, constituting about 11% of the biota. They are the cleaners, charged with the task of disposing of the by-products of life, and they recycle waste with an amazing efficiency. Saprophagous insects have always been an integral part of any ecosystem and undoubtedly were as important in the Cretaceous as they are now.
While insects feed on plants and other animals, they are themselves a significant source of nutrition in the food chain. Small and numerous, they occur in all terrestrial habitats. Convenient packages of protein and other essential nutrients that are readily available and comparatively easy to obtain, insects are consumed by a multitude of creatures. In the Cretaceous, they would have been an important part of the diet for dinosaur young as well as the smaller animals dinosaurs consumed.
The minute but mighty insects have exerted a tremendous impact on the entire ecology of the earth, certainly shaping the evolution and causing the extinction of terrestrial organisms. The largest of the land animals, the dinosaurs, would have been locked in a life-or-death struggle with them for survival. Details of this competition can be garnered from the fossil record. Fossils, interpreted by comparison with their modern counterparts, tell us how insects could have impacted dinosaurs and the entire Cretaceous world. Their preserved remains are the basis for a journey that will take us into the past and reveal new facets of dinosaur ecology and demise. Fossils will be the keys we use to unlock the secrets of the Cretaceous.
Excerpted from What Bugged the Dinosaurs? by George Poinar, Jr. Roberta Poinar
Copyright © 2008 by Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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What People are saying about this
Timothy D. Schowalter, author of "Insect Ecology: An Ecosystem Approach"
Michael J. Benton, author of "When Life Nearly Died: The Greatest Mass Extinction of All Time"
Meet the Author
George Poinar, Jr., is currently in the Zoology Department at Oregon State University. He is well known internationally in various fields, including paleobiology, nematology, and insect pathology. He became familiar with tropical diseases while serving as a consultant for the United Nations and World Health Organization. Roberta Poinar is a retired research scientist. They are the coauthors of "The Amber Forest: A Reconstruction of a Vanished World" (Princeton) and "The Quest for Life in Amber". Their research has been featured in leading publications worldwide and on television programs such as "Nova".
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Hmmm i wonder what bugged a dinosaur oh i know a METEOR o---l::::::::::::>
Interesting and worth another star except that the many color photographs refered to in the text are missing and the few black & white photos are small and not well reproduced. This is a common problem in e-books which B&N does not mention in their ads for these books, so buyer beware!