EDIT: Thanks so much for your questions today! I had a lot of fun answering them, but I’ve gotta run now….If you’re interested in knowing more on my research, you can find links to my papers here on my website (https://alessandrochiarenza.weebly.com/) or just connect via Twitter (https://twitter.com/AAlechiarenza) and Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/ale.chia/). Ciao!

Hi Reddit! I'm Alessandro Chiarenza, a vertebrate paleontologist at Imperial College London. My research focuses on dinosaur extinction,dinosaur evolution through time, and carnivorous dinosaurs here and here. You can read more of my work here, and you can also find me on Instagram and Twitter. Thank you for chatting today!

If you want to find out more about my research, here you can find some popular articles online published by National Geographic. - Dinosaur diversity - Dinosaur extinction

Proof: https://i.redd.it/vge7y8kfvjq51.png

Comments: 63 • Responses: 25  • Date: 

fuckborgerking6 karma

Is it true that inorder to be able to live off paleontology you have to be born rich or have connections? Also opinion on Burger and favorite dinosaur and least favorite dinosaur

nationalgeographic5 karma

Hi there! Unfortunately not (personally I wish I was…). Even in my generation (I am a millennial), it is not unusual to be first gen scientists, like in my case (my parents only went to high school and my grand parents barely went to school at all!). This is actually the norm more than you may think. Plus, funding in Palaeontology and Earth/Natural sciences in general are all but large, and so competing for ensuring money to build your own lab or funding your dig, buy machinery to run analyses or even paying technicians and grad students are hyper-competitive. You don’t choose the job for the money, basically, but also the money oftentimes don’t seem to choose you :/

nationalgeographic2 karma

PS: Burger, double bacon - dinos, most favourite is Zanabazar, while least favourite: there isn't really any!

hirnfleisch3 karma

Is it true that they had feathers and the velociraptor didn't look so sleek like in the movies?

nationalgeographic4 karma

Yup, probably wasn't smarte than a Turkey, and looked pretty much like this: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0235078
The annoying kid at the beginning of Jurassic Park basically had it all right from the start...

Ser_Smaug3 karma

Greatly appreciate this AMA! What are your thoughts on the possibility of viviparity (live-birth) within Thalattosuchia (marine crocodiles)? I read Herrera et al 2017 which draws the conclusion that viviparity is the more likely strategy (for the Metriorhynchidae family), but wouldn't oviparity (egg laying) would be the assumed strategy since viviparity isnt found in archosauria (crocs and dinosaurs)?

nationalgeographic4 karma

(for the Metriorhynchid

That's a pretty cool question! We don't really know, and what you highlighted based on the research you reported in your question is basically all we know...Viviparity for those animals seems likely, but things get weird with archosaur reproductive strategies (think of the recent paper on ancestrally soft shelled eggs in dinos by Norell et al., 2020 https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-020-2412-8). Things may get weirder with new, still unannounced findings though...

cshark132 karma

Favorite episode of Walking with Dinosaurs?

nationalgeographic2 karma

100% Death of a Dynasty

Zealousideal-King-472 karma

Hi Dr. Chiarenza! Fascinating work. What got you into paleontology, and do you have a favorite geological period?

nationalgeographic3 karma

Thanks! I started off when I was 4 and got fascinated by dinosaur documentaries on TV! Jurassic Park came later that summer in Itally (where I am from) and so that TV show with dinosaur animatronics was my real baptism of fire. You can find a reference to this vintage documentary on the Italian Wikipedia, but it's unlinkely that his show is known outside of Europe (https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Il_pianeta_dei_dinosauri)

NOSlurpy2 karma

What is an unanswered question about dinosaurs that you are dying to know?

nationalgeographic7 karma

When did dinosaurs as an evolutionary group really originate. Several estimates suggest they may have appeared sometimes in the Triassic, around 240-235 million years ago, but there are several unsolved issues…
Also dinosaurs can be split in 3 main subgroups, sauropodomorphs, theropods and ornithischians. While classic evolutionary reconstructions seemed to suggest that sauropods and theropods were more closely related to each other than with ornithischians, relatively recent research seem to suggest that instead theropods and ornithischians are closer. This may have huge implications about how dinosaurs would look like at the origin of their evolutionary legacy. It would be really cool to have more details about this fascinating but still nebulous phase of dinosaur evolution!

badgerseattadpoles1 karma

What's your favourite dinosaur and why? Mine's a pterodactyl (I know, its actually a pterosaur, but they kick dino ass imo so I'm picking it anyway).

nationalgeographic3 karma

Definetely Zanabazar junior, cool name, cool dinos, as cool as random. Check it out! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zanabazar_junior

Moon_Mice1 karma

What are your thoughts on phylogentic evidence for a feathered Tyrannosaurus Rex? There's this ongoing debate because, as I'm sure you already know, skin impressions of the Rex are thus far unfeathered, but almost the entire rest of the family tree is feathered to some degree.

nationalgeographic3 karma

Based on phylogenetic evidence, it has recently claimed that maybe a common origin of feathers at the base of dinosaurs' evolutionary tree, making a case of a feathered T. rex stronger, is not that likely (see here: https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rsbl.2015.0229). On the other hand fossils of T. rex haven't been found on the right rocks that would preserve them. So who knows, we may have a surprise, or maybe non-avian dinosaur integument is more diverse and bizarre that we currently imagine...

coltonious1 karma

Do we have any clue what sound they actually made? Or do we just take an educated guess for the roar?

nationalgeographic2 karma

Yup, we have no clue, and it's unlikely they would roar like the T. rex at the end of Jurassic Park (no animal alive does that "just because"). Some of the evolutionary closer to birds may kinda chirp, or growl like crocs, but no shouting roar in front of a recently killed prey...

coltonious1 karma

Do you know where that rumor started then

nationalgeographic2 karma

I think that just noisy is scary tbh, think Godzilla!

N8teface1 karma

Thanks for doing this! I have a two-parter. What is a question that you wished more folks asked about dinosaurs? And what's your opinion on how dinosaurs are portrayed in popular media?

nationalgeographic7 karma

I wish 1) people saw them more like actual animals then like monsters (cinematography should help more there) but 2) that general audience would appreciate more that these are animals that evolved and dominated the planet for 160+ million years, surviving, mating, adapting through countless environmental changes, suddenly perished because of an unexpected and fast environmental change....maybe there is a lesson for us from dinosaurs in there...

Bad-Extreme1 karma

How did you get into this field? (Or what’s the most conventional way of becoming a palaeontologist?) What’s an average day as a palaeontologist like? Also, any programmes/ activities you’d recommend for aspiring palaeontologist? Lastly, what are your biggest pet peeves about dinosaur misconceptions?

Thanks for doing this, have a good day!

nationalgeographic2 karma

Hi, I answered to part of this question in previous ones (e.g. here https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/j7cudg/im_alessandro_chiarenza_a_paleontologist_at/g83yw4n?utm_source=share&utm_medium=web2x&context=3) but regarding to the pet peeves....probably that dinos were all giant monsters, while Dinosauria was a group of very diverse, big and small, animals...and they are still around with one of the most diverse group of land vertebrates (birds).

Nuthetes1 karma


Collector of dinosaur fossils and dinosaur nut here, so this AMA interests me a lot.

What are your thoughts on dinosaur fossils being in private collections---not individual teeth or isolated bones, but rare ones, like the T-rex skeleton that was auctioned off this week? I know opinions often vary--some saying they should be used for science, or put in museums etc.

nationalgeographic3 karma

It is a very wide issue, and basically my position is the same as the one of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology: http://vertpaleo.org/Membership/Member-Ethics/Member-Bylaw-on-Ethics-Statement.aspx

But more importantly, as I posted yesterday on twitter: you could have employed me for aresearch position for roughly 530 years with those money. Or a team of 10 palaeontologists for 50+ years. Imagine how many advances with such a large team doing long-term research with economic security and stability you could have obtained. But instead...

pestolinguine1 karma

Apologies for asking this and I am sure you heard this one before!

But what is your opinion about how the 'Friends' character Ross Gellar, the paleontologist, was depicted? Have you seen it and does it make you cringe?

Edit : To correct a typo!

nationalgeographic2 karma

I like Friends, it's a pretty funny show but I am not particularly bothered but the way Ross Gellar as a paleontologist is protrayed :)

Iconoclast6741 karma

Ankylosaurus supposedly weighed as much as 8 tons, 16000 pounds. That seems like an absurdly high number compared to other dinos of their size and time. How is that possible? Are they the most dense animal to have lived?

nationalgeographic2 karma

I mean, precise estimates may vary a lot based on the methods (although see: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/brv.12638) but these were dense animals at least in their bony armor, so that surely must account for a lot of this high number!

Iconoclast6741 karma

I load gravel and rocks for a living currently, with a tractor, that would not be able to move that guy

nationalgeographic1 karma

Yup, I did that as well during a dig: only issue there is that bones from dinosaurs when fossilise have most of their original chemistry replaced by minerals, making it essentially "made of stone"...hence that would multiple their "final" wight.

RageAgainstTheBeans1 karma

As a kid my favourite dinosaur was the Dimetrodon and I was extremely sad that dinos were extinct. As I got older and looked into it more I found out that Dimetrodon wasn't a dinosaur nor are they even completely extinct (birds). How much misinformation is out there about Dino's and are their any "facts" that particularly bug you?

nationalgeographic1 karma

out there about Di

There is a lot, bit a think that recently more scientists are getting involved even in writing books for children on dinosaur and prehistoric animals in general, so I think that this will help a lot on builing the new generation of palaeontologists!

garnador1 karma

Do you think that most modern portrayals of dinosaurs are accurate, or is there a chance some species had feathers or fur?

nationalgeographic2 karma

I think that as with everything in science, more information and more technological insights allow more glimpses and a more detailed pictures, but dinosaurs are basically our scientific-based interpretation of a physical phenomenon (fossils), and intepretation is not identical to experiencing something firsthand, so we will always have a degree of uncertainity in reconstructing them.

Leenzlions1 karma

Thanks for doing this AMA! What inspired you to pursue paleontology as a profession? And what advice would you give to anyone who wants to become a paleontologist?

nationalgeographic2 karma

I mentioned in another comment that I started off as a young kid (was only 4) fascinated with dinosaurs and nature documentaries, but eventually passion led me through the professional route (via proper academic training). Generally my advice would be (to a young person being interested by this subject) to get out, enjoy nature, read as many books on whatever they see that interest you and enjoying subjects at school like math, science, chemistry, everything that you can use as you personal superpower as a future palaeontologist!

Yannodo1 karma

Well I can guess by your name that you're Italian (è sempre un piacere incontrarne online!) so: did you study in Italy? If yes, was going to London part of your plan from the start of was it a pleasant surprise?

nationalgeographic3 karma

I am, piacere mio (my pleasure)! I started with a Natural Science degree and a Master of Science in Evolutionary Biology in Italy, but then I applied in several places aborad and as oftentimes happen in Science, the only place getting back to me was Imperial College London. After ensuring fundings through a departmental competition and meeting my prospective supervisors there, I was sold and there my adventure in dinosaur palaeontology properly took off!

Yannodo1 karma

Thanks for the answer and congrats for your job!

nationalgeographic2 karma

Thank you!

J0yeM1 karma

Hello and thank you for doing this AMA. My question is:
What do you think about under-feathered dinosaurs? Do you think paleoartists should give dinosaurs more feathers in their art or did dinosaurs have little to no feathers in your opinion?

nationalgeographic2 karma

I think that it may depend a lot from the artist and whether they take into account the suggestions of the scientists, but also by how diverse we may expect plumage or other integumentary structures to be in extinct animals (look for example to this reconstruction from a paper of mine by Andrey Atuchin: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0235078). Some Palaeoartists like Davide Bonadonna, Andrey Atuchin, Gabrie Ugueto and Julio Lacerda do get it pretty much right (based on our current knowledge).

J0yeM1 karma

Thank you for your detailed answer. I will make sure to look through your work and I will also look up the suggested artists. If you allow me, I have one more question. If you could wish for a breakthrough in your field of research, what would you wish for?

nationalgeographic2 karma

Uhm...good question. Don't really have an answer for that. But one thing that I am really interested in is looking at the way animal distribution is affected by changes in climate and geography. So maybe understanding something more of dinosaur biology that affected their distribution, in turn being a key factor in their evolutionary history.

arteryblock1 karma

What’s your favourite dinosaur fact?

nationalgeographic10 karma

So if one interpretation on dinosaur relationships I mentioned above is right (the one suggesting long necked sauropodomorphs and mostly carnivorous theropods are part of the same dinosaur subgroup, called Saurischia), one of their early evolutionary distinctive feature is a semi-opposable thumb. This features allowed early dinosaurs to manipulate plants or meat with their hand in a way other reptiles like crocs can't...Well this same features got inherited by birds and allows them to fold the feathers on the first finger of their wing in a way to regulate the ariflow while flying in a similarly to modern airplan flaps! Basically evolutionary biology experimenting with dinosaurs' anatomy in a way to eventually allow them 100 million years later to fly so efficiently. Evolutionary aeronautics!