Hi, I’m Matthew Carrano, Curator of Dinosauria at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. I've gone dinosaur-hunting around the world, named a dinosaur after a rock-and-roll singer, and now am lead curator for the museum's new 30,000-square-foot National Fossil Hall.

I don't think dinosaurs could roar, or that we'll get dinosaur DNA anytime soon. I know what happened to Brontosaurus, and why dinosaurs are not extinct. I've wanted to be a paleontologist since I was six years old.

Ask me anything!

Proof: I am holding a rare specimen of Snooceratops from our collections. Read more about me here and here.

EDIT: Further proof here

EDIT 2: You guys are great! I'll try to get to everyone, but I'm a three-finger typist…only one more than T. rex.

EDIT 3: Okay, I've gotta hit the road and get back to the fossils. But thanks for all your excellent questions - and come visit the Smithsonian's dinosaur hall soon, before it closes!

Comments: 633 • Responses: 60  • Date: 

Sgt_45Bravo335 karma

Thanks for posting! Are there any plans to 3D scan specimens so people can print their own? I would love to print my own T-Rex skull. It would be amazing to print an entire specimen, although smaller, and assemble it. It'd be a really neat fossil puzzle, except more affordable.

mattcarrano463 karma

We are actually working on the right now. We're scanning the Nation's T. rex in the "Rex Room" exhibit as I write this. I hope that once it's complete we can use the 3D scans to make a model and try out new exhibit poses. And I also hope we can also make it available to you guys out there. Stay tuned!

Sgt_45Bravo155 karma


This exactly what I was hoping for. Thank you!

mattcarrano197 karma

There's a bunch of new scan stuff online now here. Some fossils, plenty of things from across the Smithsonian. Try the online viewer, and feel free to get in touch with these guys (the "laser cowboys") - they're great!

mayonaise55265 karma

I'll bite. What happened to Brontosaurus?

mattcarrano379 karma

Ah, I was hoping someone would want to know!

Okay, so rule #1 is that if you find a dinosaur, and you determine it's a new species, you get to name it.

Rule #2 is that if someone figures out two different dinosaurs are actually the same thing, the first-given name is the one you use. (This keeps us from bickering about names too much.)

So, Othniel Marsh's crews discovered a huge Jurassic dinosaur skeleton, pretty complete, at Como Bluff in Wyoming. In 1879 he named it Brontosaurus excelsus, the "thunder lizard."

But a few years earlier, they had found a different, less complete Jurassic dinosaur skeleton at Morrison, Colorado. Marsh named it in 1877 as Apatosaurus ajax, the "deceptive lizard."

Later, when Elmer Riggs was trying to identify a sauropod skeleton he had collected for the Field Museum, he re-studied all these species. He determined that his skeleton belonged to Apatosaurus, and further that this was the same animal as Brontosaurus.

As a result, Brontosaurus is considered a synonym of Apatosaurus, and has been since about 1911. The real mystery to me is how anyone still knows about Brontosaurus!

Edgar_Allan_Rich48 karma

I learned about brontosaurus through all the books, posters, and merchandise I was enthusiastic about as a child. You would essentially have to host a book-burning and eradicate two or three generations of dinosaur fans if you wanted to wipe out the idea of brontosaurus.

mattcarrano61 karma

Yeah, me too. It's just funny to me that by the time the first popular books were written (in about the 1940s), Brontosaurus was already defunct.

Eternally65207 karma

Where are dinosaur fossils still being found in the US? If I found some on my land, would I get to keep them or do they belong to the government?

mattcarrano370 karma

Yes! Dinosaur fossils are being found all over the US, all the time. We've only found a tiny fraction of the fossils out there (and those fossils are themselves only a tiny fraction of what was alive at the time).

In the US, the best places are out west, where the land is dry (and not covered by vegetation) and the bedrock is the right age (Triassic, Jurassic, or Cretaceous). But dinosaur fossils can be found anywhere there are the right rocks, and right now there have been dinosaurs from about 30 US states.

If you find a dinosaur on your land, it's yours to keep. The US is one of the only countries with lots of dinosaur fossils that still considers them to be legally "minerals," and not objects of national heritage. But of course we hope you decide to donate it to a museum!

shakestown39 karma

What about specimens found on government land, say BLM or other areas open to the public. Are all fossils found there government property? If someone found a megalodon tooth on a public beach, would it be illegal to take out?

mattcarrano80 karma

Generally public lands do not permit private collection of fossils - this especially applies to government lands of all kinds, including BLM, Forestry Service, Army Corps lands, etc. Fossils on these lands are the property of the people of the US, to be held in trust by the US government. Hence, the Smithsonian.

Towns and counties might have varying rules, though, so you'd want to check with that - and beaches are trickier still, because many have different rules for above and below the high-tide line.

daikiki36 karma

Actually, in some places, the BLM allows people to collect fossils, rocks, and even precious metals and stones for your private colection. This brochure refers to Colorado, but there's also BLM managed land in California, Wyoming, and elsewhere, where you can keep what you find. There are exceptions for fossilized vertebrates and items of scientific significance, however.

mattcarrano48 karma

Good point - I should have been more specific (I forget not everyone is into dinosaurs!). Definitely check the rules for yourself wherever you go - it's always best to know ahead of time.

drdaco195 karma

What would you say to a precocious 9yo daughter of scientists who wants to go digging for fossils? Are there digs that citizens can help with?

mattcarrano244 karma

Absolutely! It depends on where you live, in terms of how easy they are to get to, though.

If you live out west, most museums have programs where you can either visit or help with a fossil dig. This is especially true in places like Utah, Montana, and Colorado. Here are some examples:

Museum of the Rockies

Denver Museum of Nature and Science

Out east, it's trickier, but there are still options. Here in the Washington, DC area you can visit Dinosaur Park and help look for dinosaur bones. But there just aren't as many sites out here.

LATE EDIT: missing link.

SUEtheTrex167 karma

Hi Matthew!

I'm a Tyrannosaurus rex myself. I was wondering... How does Wankel compare to other T. rex specimens across the country?

mattcarrano148 karma

Hi Sue! Do you remember me? I helped put you together in Phil Fraley's studio back in Trenton!

As for the Wankel Rex, I'm interested to learn that exact thing. I know it's not as complete as you, but it has some spectacular preservation (soft tissues!), and is just a little bit smaller. So in the end, we might have to do a photo finish.

SUEtheTrex108 karma

Yay! Thanks for getting me out of that matrix and pieced together! My mount is the coolest mount.

I'm sure Wankel and I will be good pals.

mattcarrano104 karma

Undoubtedly. I know Wankel appreciates all your good advice.

ThePats145 karma

Did Jurassic Park have any impact on your life?

mattcarrano300 karma

Jurassic Park had a huge impact on my life in a sort of indirect way. I was already in grad school when it came out (1993), so it wasn't a factor in my decision to be a paleontologist. But that movie changed the public landscape for dinosaur paleontology. It made dinosaurs interesting to adults and not just children, and helped fuel a major change in museums as a side effect.

One result is that every major museum has now renovated their dinosaur exhibits (we're up next!). Another is that they've all re-hired dinosaur paleontologists. For many decades, most US museums didn't have any dinosaur paleontologists on staff, but now they all do. So I can, in part, thank Jurassic Park for the fact that I have a job.

LickItAndSpreddit57 karma

What would be different in a "real" Jurassic Park movie?

If popular culture is to be believed, the movie would more appropriately be named Cretaceous Park.

What would we see in reptiles (and mammals) of the Jurassic period? From my (limited) understanding, those creatures would not be as predatory, agile, or blockbuster-y.

mattcarrano125 karma

Well, you'd see many more things that weren't dinosaurs - mammals, birds, lizards, amphibians, etc. Most would, as you say, not be blockbuster-y.

And you'd have things you never had heard of before. One of the things I thought was a missed opportunity was that all the DNA they found in Jurassic Park came from dinosaurs we already knew. This is incredibly unlikely - we've found just a tiny fraction of all the dinosaurs species that ever lived, so it's probable that a lot of the DNA they found would be from never-before-seen species.

Transvestosaurus41 karma

If you could choose any other era to have the Spielberg 'something Park' treatment and receive the boost in popularity and funding, which would it be?

mattcarrano87 karma

Triassic Park, definitely. That was a real world of wierdos.

Charniodiscus132 karma

Hi Matt. Why are Ediacaran fossils soooo much cooler than dinosaurs? Thanks again for all your hard work at bringing these magnificent animals to life for us to enjoy.

mattcarrano127 karma

Well, we cannot all work on fossil snot. Is that still a live hypothesis for what those things are? ;)

Charniodiscus100 karma

Ha! I was wondering if you could figure out who this was ;) - Marc

mattcarrano106 karma

You or Sarah, I wasn't sure who. Doug seemed an unlikely choice.

pistachiosociety106 karma

How do we know what Dinosaurs really looked like if we only have the bones? How does one accommodate for all the tissue/fat? Can we ever know some details such as what dinosaurs eyes looked like?

evanmc79 karma

Yeah, how did we know T-rexes were purple and green?

mattcarrano164 karma

So right now, we don't know much about dinosaur color. The exception is that for some fossil feathers, we have clues about certain colors. But that's only sometimes, and many colors are not even preserved then.

We do get skin impressions from many dinosaurs, but these show texture and not color. (It's like a stamp made in the mud from the skin, but it's not the actual skin).

For muscle, it's more complicated. We can reconstruct many muscles because they leave marks where they are attached to the bones, and we can often find the same muscles in the living relatives of dinosaur (crocs and birds). We sort of triangulate using that information.

That's a good general rule - living relatives, plus the actual fossils, are the basic guidelines for all of our reconstructions.

But in the end, there's a lot of uncertainty to overall size, shape, and color. We often try to check the error by performing things like sensitivity analyses - these basically let you test how "wrong" you can be without violating your basic conclusions.

Weaselord79 karma

So, could dinosaur's actually have giant tentacles that we never will know about?

alexklevine163 karma

I read "giant testicles." I hope Matthew misreads that the same way I did.

TheOtherAvaz52 karma

That's what I (mis)read.

mattcarrano295 karma

The answer is yes to both.

ChrisManfredijr74 karma

What dinosaur era would you like to live in the most and why?

mattcarrano136 karma

Ooh, good question - and one I've never been asked before! I had to think about this a bit.

I think I would want to live in the Middle Jurassic Period, because it's a time we know very poorly (so everything would be especially new & interesting to me). Plus, I'd see the early forms of many dinosaur groups that got impressive later - tyrannosaurs, ceratopsians, ankylosaurs, etc., all in their early stages.

And if I got bored, I could still walk to most places on Earth.

adventursaur72 karma

Matthew, thank you for doing this AMA! I am in my mid-30's, with all of my work experience in information technology. That said, I am exceedingly interested in paleobiology and vertebrate paleontology, and have considered switching fields. What advice could you give someone in my position (many years past the typical student age, already a professional in another field, etc.)?

mattcarrano77 karma

So let me ask you first - what type of work do you think you'd like best? Teaching? Research? Fieldwork? Are you looking for an academic job, or something else? There are a few different options, and I'd like to give you advice you can use.

adventursaur45 karma

Thank you for the response!

Given my experience, I'd say 50% teaching, 35% field, and 15% research. I'm not specifically looking for a job in academia, but I wouldn't shy away from one.

I truly enjoy education (as a field), and I've been in front of a classroom numerous times before, but I also have a soft spot for the outdoors, rough conditions, and detailed work.

mattcarrano85 karma

Okay, so there's the standard track - grad school and then academia. Paleontology can be found in geology, evolution, biology, anatomy departments. There's rarely an actual paleo department. Find an advisor and program that piques your interest and seems like a place you can work and be productive. The people matter more than the curriculum in grad school. A PhD is needed for professor-type work but a Master's will be enough for anything else. Don't get a PhD unless you need to, honestly.

Track two (no implied priority here) would be museum work, collections, preparation, education. Many paths here, some via a Masters and others just through on-job training or volunteering. If you're more interested in the education side, you might consider museum education as an option - there are programs that cater to this specifically. But even working as a museum preparator or collections person will afford opportunities for museum education. For any of these, I'd try to get hooked up with a nearby museum to get a sense of what the options might be, and work from there.

Museums also have field schools and camps, where they need educators, field techs, etc. So that's another option - here you'd want to look at museums out West, mostly.

agoetz9758 karma

You mentioned you don't believe we'll get DNA anytime soon, why is that? Do you see us getting DNA at any point?

mattcarrano100 karma

Right now we can only get usable DNA from things that are about a million years old or younger. But there are certainly fragments of DNA that are older.

The problem is that DNA is not a terribly stable molecule (unlike good structural biomolecules like collagen and keratin). So it pretty easily breaks into little fragments. And the information content of DNA is in the sequence of nucleotides - so short fragments aren't very useful.

My feeling is that we may well get DNA from dinosaurs someday, but it's likely to be very short bits that are not very useful.

BlinkOh137 karma

Couldn't you fill in the gaps with some kind of other DNA? Like frogs maybe.

mattcarrano242 karma

Good thinking…brb

thesecondkira24 karma

There's gotta be a mosquito in some resin somewhere...

mattcarrano46 karma

There are many - and one recently had blood in it, though from a time after the dinosaurs.

nowDistracted14 karma

what are your thoughts on this article - http://www.foxnews.com/science/2013/11/27/controversial-t-rex-soft-tissue-find-finally-explained/ - which is kind of related to this?

mattcarrano33 karma

This is a great example of how we're having to invent whole new techniques just to understand some of these questions. This is really, really interesting and very important to understanding how fossils form. But it still probably won't help with the DNA specifically; these are still preserving other kinds of molecules, and not introducing anything that would especially preserve DNA.

bozobozo12 karma

Not dinosaur related, but what do you think our chances of finding good DNA from a Mastodon, Smilodon or any other "recently" deceased species are?

mattcarrano19 karma

We have already found good DNA from a woolly mammoth, and a prehistoric horse! So Ice Age species are fair game, and I expect we'll see more successes in the future as techniques improve.

Frajer50 karma

What is the worst misconception you've heard about dinosaurs?

mattcarrano131 karma

Certainly that dinosaurs and people lived at the same time. But second (and this is common, actually), that dinosaurs all lived at the same time as one another. When, in fact, there's more less time between us and T. rex than between T. rex and, say, Stegosaurus.

LATE EDIT: less, not more!

Qsouremai47 karma

Were you into dinosaurs as a teenager? Most of us have a phase at 7 or 8 and then move on. How did you keep the love going strong? Respect.

mattcarrano64 karma

I was! I got interested in second grade and just never really let go. I'm not actually sure why that was, but I think a big reason was that I grew up near a museum with an amazing dinosaur hall. So it was easy to keep going back and getting inspired.

bruddatim47 karma

In the modern world, there is still an astounding number of undiscovered species. I feel like this doubly applies for the past. Do you think there are any large species left to be discovered? Is there any evidence in the fossil record for species we haven't discovered? Like bite marks on a bone that don't match any existing records?

mattcarrano75 karma

Yes, it applies a hundred-fold for the past. Think of it this way. Most dinosaur species only lived for a few million years, and only in one particular area of the world. But dinosaurs lived on Earth for 160 million years. So imagine there are hundreds of species alive at any one time, changing every few million years for 160 million years. That's more than 10,000 total dinosaur species. Right now we can count about 2,000, and that's a generous estimate.

We know of many more from evidence like you mention - footprints where we don't have bones yet; teeth and other fragments from things bigger or smaller than known species; etc. And then there are whole stretches of time where we don't have fossils from a place, but we know they must have lived there.

b4dm1n7on41 karma

Is it true the T-Rex should look more like a giant bird with feathers and everything?

mattcarrano73 karma

We honestly don't know. The bigger dinosaurs may not have been as fully feathered as their smaller cousins, just for reasons of heat dissipation (sort of like elephants are less hairy than lions). Until we get skin impressions and preservation of an actual T. rex, we won't know much more than that.

maggiedee40 karma

Wow, this is super awesome! What would you say is your greatest discovery??

mattcarrano76 karma

Well, of course I have to say my best discovery is Masiakasaurus knopfleri, the only dinosaur species I've ever helped to name. I got to work in Madagascar (absolutely amazing place), with great colleagues from Stony Brook University, and then study and describe a kind of dinosaur no one had really seen before.

Illiterate_Scholar22 karma

Oh wow, you discovered Masiakasaurus knopfleri!? That really is one of my favorite dinosaur discoveries. I just love how weird the teeth on the premax and tip of the dentry looks.

mattcarrano29 karma

Yeah, that was truly a mystery to us and took some years to work out. It turned out that there were relatives of it that had already been discovered, but no one could figure out eaxctly what they were. Masiakasaurus really helped because we had a lot of the animal.

Gorilla-fishing37 karma

I have heard of a T-Rex skeleton that had to be incased in a protective layer because of radioactivity,have you heard of that one?

mattcarrano73 karma

Hmm, I'm not sure I know that one specifically, but it's not uncommon that dinosaur bones are at least a bit radioactive. Uranium, in particular, seems to especially like to nestle into bones during the fossilization process.

I do know of places where the bones are quite radioactive, and have to be stored away from people and studied for short periods only. Here at the Smitsonian we actually do regular checks for that.

Vrolik33 karma

Kind of tangentially related to dinosaurs, but I have an evolution project where I teach people (mostly children) about evolution by 'evolving' their drawings, and usually animating the results. Initially I had a temnospondylic creature and its evolved into a couple of things that look like dinosaurs, but there's always a wide variety of different forms. I'm always looking for more people to carry on the project with, and have partnered with schools and museums in the past, but do you think it may be possible to do something with the Smithsonian? You can see more detailed information here, and I'd love to know what you think! http://evolutionanimation.wordpress.com/what-is-this/

mattcarrano25 karma

This is really cool - can you pm me and we can chat more after the AMA?

You_said_ANY-THING32 karma

What alcoholic beverage would go with a medium-rare T-Rex T-Bone?

mattcarrano84 karma

Something like this.

JohnlillyEccoofficer30 karma

Hello Mr. Carrano. I have only just recently (few weeks) found evolution and accepted the age of the earth in the billions of years and that Dinosaurs lived millions of years ago and not the thousands of years ago / Dinos on the ark like I was taught growing up. I am now 27 years old and know absolutely nothing about the real story of Dinosaurs and what happened to them and how they lived their long ago lives. Could you recommend a good starting book or course for an adult with ZERO real knowledge on the subject? Sadly what I do know I am afraid needs re-learning as its mostly false I now realise.

mattcarrano30 karma

Hello - and thanks for your question. You know, one starting place might be something that addresses this information at a general level but is still comprehensive. So you could try Gould's (now revised) The Book of Life, or Fortey's Life, both of which are like that.

If you want to look into more specific topics, some of Pat Shipman's books are good as well. Let me know if you need more advice!

grabthor30 karma

Being from Bozeman.. you are welcome. Treat him well!

mattcarrano29 karma

Thank you! I love Bozeman - such a great place to visit. It always makes me happy, getting back to Montana.

boycot3429 karma

Working at dino section in a museum myself, do you constantly have to tell people (adults or children) to stop touching the damn fossils?

mattcarrano59 karma

Most people are pretty respectful; it's like 0.1% that want to grab the fossils. The problem is, with 8,000,000 visitors a year, that's 8,000 problems a year!

lula248827 karma

What is your favourite dinosaur, and why?

mattcarrano72 karma

I don't have a permanent favorite dinosaur - it's like having a favorite child. So I just have a favorite dinosaur of the day. Today my favorite dinosaur is Pachycephalosaurus.

Fiendish-Imp26 karma

When you were fossil hunting, what would a work day consist of?

mattcarrano68 karma

Walking, lots and lots of walking. 90+% of the time you are walking around, looking at the ground, hoping to see a fragment of fossil bone peeking out of the ground.

If you do find one, then the trick is to see if it's attached to the rest of the animal, or fell off from a bigger bone nearby. Most of the time, the fragment is all you get.

But if you get a major find, then your schedule changes a bit. Excavation is long and thorough, mostly done by hand, and involves a fair bit of planning. We collect a *lot of data before we take the bone out of the ground, otherwise we lose a lot of information.

And then, back to camp. Dinner. Your drink of choice.

b4dm1n7on22 karma

I don't know about paleontology or any paleontologists except through the popular sitcom "friends". So my question is "how do you like the portrayal of Ross?"

mattcarrano91 karma

I think that for the most part, Ross was really just a paleontologist as a plot device. There wasn't too much that was specific in the show to do with his job, so I'm kind of neutral. But I can usually guess someone's age depending on whether they say my job is "just like Jurassic Park" or "just like Ross."

As an aside, there is a real-life paleontologist named David Schwimmer. He was not as happy about the "Friends" thing.

breylin20 karma

Hi Matthew!

Any chance you would be willing / able to come out to the Philadelphia Science Festival Apr 25th - May 3rd? I'm an intern at The Franklin Institute and we've been planning for the last several months and we'd love to have you!

mattcarrano31 karma

I'd love to - but that's when we're closing the dinosaur halls here! I ll be running a film festival, including Jurassic Park and a host of great old dino films, plus starting the deconstruction. But another time - I'd be happy to come up!

breylin11 karma

Sounds like a great time! The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University just shut down their dinosaur exhibit...was sad to see it go.

Are they closing the halls for good? If so, why? :(

mattcarrano25 karma

We're closing for a complete renovation. Back open in 2019 - but we'll have dinos on display in a great temporary exhibit in the meantime, called "The Last American Dinosaurs."

Mitochondria42016 karma

I heard a story on NPR the other day about transporting the T-Rex from Montana to DC, has it arrived yet? When does or is the new hall open? If you were to visit DC, where would you stay for your visit? You have an awesome job! Thanks for doing an AMA.

mattcarrano24 karma

Yes - we had a sort of welcome ceremony on Tuesday morning, when it arrived. It'll be on display in the "Rex Room" as we 3D scan it and do whatever conservation we need. Then it goes to get mounted offsite, and will be on display in 2019.

And although I can't plug any one hotel chain right now, I'd say that just finding one near a Metro stop is the best plan. That way you can get around very easily, even if you're not right downtown.

MahaliAudran15 karma

Why don't you think dinos could roar?

Are you equating roar to be like a lion or T-rex in the movies therefor allowing, honking, hissing, tooting, and the like?

mattcarrano43 karma

I think that "movie dinosaur roar" is what I meant - and that's really a mammal roar. Very loud, just not very reptilian. I definitely would use birds and crocs as a guide for dinosaur noises - so grunting, hissing, etc. are all on the table. But yelling, screaming, etc. - those are really mammal noises. I've never heard a snake scream ;)

alexklevine14 karma

Out in the wild (bars, cocktail parties, the DMV) what is people's reaction when you tell them what you do for a living? In a given 10 instances, how many go fangirl on you (like us) and how many times do you get a puzzled stare?

mattcarrano19 karma

Oh interesting question! I think that it's somewhat generation-dependent. In the post-Jurassic Park world, I get many more "wow" responses. I give out lots of business cards (which say "Curator of Dinosauria" on them). But the pre-JP generation tends to look puzzled still sometimes. Regardless, it's fun because if I meet you, I'm (usually) the only dinosaur paleontologist you know.

Illiterate_Scholar13 karma

Why did you guys choose an existing T.rex rather than find a new one? I heard there were at least 2 very complete T.rex discoveries last summer.

Also, what's gonna happen to Stan?

mattcarrano19 karma

The original "Stan" is still at the Black Hills Institute, but our cast is actually on loan from a private company, Voyager Industries. For a while it will be in our new temporary exhibit, "The Last American Dinosaurs." Then it'll go back to them, with our thanks.

As for choosing an existing T. rex, this was a great opportunity that came up thanks to the creative thinking of Jack Horner and Larry Small (former Smithsonian Secretary). I'm really happy that we did not go on the open market, but instead could craft an agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers to show this specimen on behalf of the people of the US.

Illiterate_Scholar6 karma

I didn't mean buy a new one, just dig up your own. Though I understand that is easier said than done.

You guys are actually mounting up MOR 555 instead of keeping it in the origin discovery position, right?

Also, how big of MOR 555 compared to BHI 3033? I keep seeing mixed numbers all over that place. Common knowledge says BHI 3033 is the second smallest adult T.rex, but I've seen number that suggests MOR 555 is the smallest. What's the deal?

mattcarrano13 karma

Ah, I see - well, unless you're Jack Horner, finding one's own T. rex is not that simple, so this was a great alternative.

And we are actually mounting MOR 555 (now, FYI, USNM 555000) in an upright position. Though the specific pose is still TBD.

Size-wise, we're still unpacking, so I'll have more to say on that in a few months. But it's not that small an adult. Really it's the fact that "Sue" is quite a bit more massive than most others.

trowynt12 karma

Have any dinosaurs been discovered In the UK? And is it possible that the Loch Ness Monster is a dinosaur? Assuming it exists. Which it does of course.

mattcarrano32 karma

Some of the first dinosaurs discovered by science were from England - including the first two to receive official names (Megalosaurus bucklandii and Iguanodon anglicum).

As for the Loch Ness Monster…it's unlikely simply because dinosaurs weren't aquatic. And because it's a long time for a dinosaur to stay hidden. And because it doesn't exist. But otherwise, maybe.

Charfade12 karma

Where would you like to go in the field to study next? I guess as a follow up Q, Is there place you visited before and would like to go back to?

And thank you for taking your time answering our questions ^

mattcarrano23 karma

Wow - there are a ton of places I would like to go in the field. I think Argentina is high on my list. I've been many times to the museums there, but not into the field. Then perhaps Mongolia (sort of a paleo-pilgrimage, really), and Morocco.

I've been to Zimbabwe recent-ish (2010) and would love to go back. And Chile - absolutely beautiful.

LoyolaSt12 karma

I was obsessed with dinosaurs as a small kid and as a young teen still think they are pretty metal.

My question is about how you said they they aren't extinct. Are you talking about birds? Or that actual Dino's survived the massive extinction. Also almost every culture around the world has dragons. I know it's silly but IS it possible that any of the dinosaurs made it and only really went extinct recently? Thanks for doing this AMA, my inner six year old is flipping out!

mattcarrano16 karma

Yes - I was referring to birds, not the big dinosaurs like T. rex. At this point, it seems pretty clear that all the non-bird dinosaurs went extinct at the end of the Cretaceous; they should be hard to miss in the recent fossil record. It is possible that it took some time for them to die off after the asteroid impact (a year? A thousand years?), but they probably didn't last much more than that.

nontechnicalbowler11 karma

What dinosaur did you name, and why did you name it that?

mattcarrano22 karma

I co-named Masiakasaurus knopfleri, a dinosaur from the Late Cretaceous of Madagascar.

We chose that name because "masiaka" means "vicious" in the local Malagasy language. We wanted to use a word from the area it was found in. (It's pronounced may-SHE-kah, btw). Then "saurus" for "lizard," the traditional ending.

And "knopfleri" was for Mark Knopfler, mostly because we were listening to a lot of Dire Straits music that year, and it was sort of good luck to us, as we were finding lots of fossils.

Paterack9 karma

What are you into aside from dinosaurs?

mattcarrano27 karma

Nerd me: maps and geography; LotR; WPA state guidebooks; flags.

Less nerd me: cooking and food; biking; travel; real-paper books

Clovis699 karma

Question about how they are displayed in art and illustrations.

I have lizards at home - Uromastyx, Bearded Dragons, Iguana, Tegu.

In illustrations of dinosaurs they aren't generally shown with soft tissues like the Iguana's ridge under the spines, things like the side spines of a Bearded Dragon, the big fleshy jaw of the Uromastyx

The scale/skin colors are often matte and uniform when lizards we have today are widely colored with small spots of other colors to break up their pattern, even in apex predators like the Komodo Dragon have different colors.

Is there a reason why the art hasn't caught up to the reality of how reptiles actually are?





mattcarrano17 karma

I think this used to be the case, back when reptiles were the standard model for dinosaurs. The pictures on this page are a good example.

But now we know that lizards and snakes are fairly distantly related to dinosaurs, which are much closer to birds and crocodilians. So we favor those as models instead nowadays.

Of course, artistic license has meant that often inspiration comes from anywhere, and so you see some quite fanciful and mammalian dinosaurs as well.

onwardtomanagua9 karma

I've always wondered how much has not been discovered yet. Do you have an estimate on how many species that could potentially be out there that have not been excavated? Also, are there any regions that haven't been explored that should be?

discographyA6 karma

What kind of donors support these projects? Boeing supporting something such as the "Milestones In Flight" series makes sense to them from a business and PR perspective there is benefit from it - but dinosaurs seem a little less clear cut beyond an amateur individual's passion.

mattcarrano12 karma

You know, almost every donor is an individual and in my experience there's no way to categorize. There are a thousand ways to like something, and I think that's the single common ground - feeling passionate about something and wanting to be involved and associated with it. Especially when you're talking about individual people as donors, that's been my experience.

Haninate5 karma

Hi Mr. Carrano, thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions. I have always been fascinated with prehistoric life and fossils since I was a kid, and I never really gotten over that phase myself despite taking a major in computer science. Please do indulge my curiosity in the following questions:

1) I am often told that it is hard to make a living with a career in Paleontology and that manpower is often lacking out in the field(hence institutions often rely on volunteers). What can be done to lessen the push-factors that cause people to lose interest once they get over the "dino phase"?

2) How do you feel about the commercialization of fossils in general(not only dinosaur material)? I refer to this commentary which discourages private collecting, no matter how amateur it is: link to article

Personally I believe that more should be done to encourage cooperation between private collectors and professional Paleontologists. How would you go about addressing this matter?

3) Do you own a personal fossil collection of your own? Please share if you do! What is your favorite group of non-dinosaur fossils(e.g trilobites)?

mattcarrano4 karma

Happy to indulge!

1) It is hard to get a job in paleontology simply because there just aren't that many jobs. We are a bit of a specialty item. The fact that many people lose interest, usually by 7-8 grade, is a separate problem that I don't yet know the answer to. I think we need more help, and honestly we love our volunteers - it's a great way to get involved without having to give up your other life.

2) I'm not a fan of fossil commercialization in general. That's not to say that if you find a fossil and don't want to give it away for free, I'm your enemy. That article is not objecting to all amateur collecting. Here's a quote: "In fact, academic paleontologists often depend upon fossil collecting by hobbyists and amateur paleontologists particularly because innumerable important scientific discoveries have been made by such people. It is also an important avenue to spark interests of youngsters who may become the next generation of paleontologists!"

This is true, and what I object to is commercialization, which is not about amateurs or even money per se, but about turning fossils into commodities that are deliberately monetized. It makes them into art objects or "stuff" instead of heritage objects and data. And that destroys information forever, in the end. I personally cooperate with amateur collectors routinely, and most museums have longstanding, positive relationships with their local fossil-friendly communities. I think we can grow these relationships even more.

3) I have a very small fossil collection from when I was a kid - shells, some wood, mostly - but stopped collecting once I became a professional. I have no desire to care for more fossils than the thousands here at the Smithsonian!

thkonmessage4 karma

Why are dinosaur skeletons occasionally found on the surface and others deep in the ground? Do we hypothesize that we would find even more skeletons at a certain depth?

mattcarrano6 karma

Actually, almost all of them are found at the surface, because the only way we can find them is to notice that they are sticking out of the ground. We can infer, however, that they are there below the ground even deeper because the same rock layers at the surface usually extend below ground. But we basically can't get at those until uplift and erosion bring them to the surface.

(One exception is that we do occasionally find them during excavations for highways and other major projects.)

Paleoram1 karma

When are yall gonna close the main fossil hall and how long till it opens again?

Have yall fixed that upright tail yet?

Are you jealous that forams are the real main draw to the nmnh?

mattcarrano3 karma

I didn't think people from Connecticut said "yall" quite so much...

omglolwetf1 karma

This is my question if it would be possible bring Dinosaur's back would you ?

mattcarrano2 karma

This is a complicated issue with ethical implications. I'd love to see a live, non-bird dinosaur, but it's so difficult to know what you're getting into by resurrecting an extinct creature that I'd be pretty wary. Maybe by then we'll be able to predict more just from DNA, before actually bringing it back to life.