[LUDWIG@HOME] Stay-At-Home Dino Dad

I wonder if a male troodon felt awkward sitting on a nest of 30 eggs while his female counterpart was out hunting. Perhaps his buddies would visit the nest to tease him with names like Mr. Mom or ask about his favorite soap operas.

Troodon is one of three types of meat-eating dinosaurs some scientists believe were stay-at-home dads. A study published last month in the journal Science also names oviraptor and citipati as likely dino dads.

The theory leans heavily on these small dinosaurs mimicking the childrearing instincts of birds. Male birds protect and support offspring in more than 90 percent of the species. By comparison, male mammals provide parental care in only 5 percent of the species. Male reptiles are even less likely to pitch in.

The dinos named in the study have plenty in common with modern birds, including asymmetrical eggs with multilayered shells. Fossilized leg bones of troodon and citipati have even been found on nests. When analyzed, the bones had characteristics of male – not female – dinosaurs.

One of the authors of the study believes females built the nests over a period of weeks. But the ladies had to leave shortly after laying such a large number of eggs. The females would have had to consume large amounts of calcium-rich food. This required lots of time away from home.

Ironically, my 2 ½-year-old son became interested in dinosaurs about the same time the study was published. The love affair began with a History Channel program featuring computer-animated dinosaurs and progressed with a stack of board books on the prehistoric beasts courtesy of the local library.

I was surprised how history has changed since I built a dinosaur diorama in a shoebox for my fourth grade science project. Back then, tyrannosaurus rex, triceratops and stegosaurus were the only dinosaurs in the equation.

The Big Three were included in Bubba’s books, but so were many other monsters with names even a Greek scholar couldn’t pronounce. These included chindesaurus (CHIN-dee-SAW-rus), smilosuchus (SMY-luh-SOOK-us) and poposaurus (POH-poh-SAW-rus).

Bubba was interested in dinosaurs, and I felt encouraged by the progressive parenting of these giant lizards. Thus, I dropped a hint this Christmas. Among the mountain of gifts, Bubba received five plastic dinosaurs from the $1-bin at Target.

They have become his favorite toys – the first things out of the toy box everyday.

Earlier in the week, I overheard him voicing a conversation between two plasticized meat eaters. With a dinosaur in each hand, he brought their faces together and began talking in a high-pitched voice.

“Daddy, daddy! I’m hungry,” he said, gently shaking one dino as he voiced the discussion.

I was folding laundry as I eavesdropped on the dino discourse. I glanced over and smiled at my imaginative little boy. Not only was Bubba being cute, he may also have been historically accurate.

Image by: National Geographic.  Get your free dinosaur desktop/wallpaper at: http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/wallpaper/troodon.html.

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