Otherwise known as the study of animals whose existence is questionable. Fire-breathing dragons, unicorns, and giants have long been popularized in myths and fiction. At one time, even fossilized bones of dinosaurs were considered a hoax. The rhinoceros, okapi, bondegezou, and the giant squid were considered too fantastical to be anything but imaginary, yet these creatures have now been proven to exist. The jury is still out on creatures like the mysterious yeti, chupacabra, and other monsters. Yet, you needn’t go very far to stretch the fantasy into fact.
As I watched a (new to me) rerun of Nova that discussed an amazing fossil bird discovery made in northeastern China http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/evolution/four-winged-dinosaur.html , I was struck that fantasy can and does become part of the scientific world on a regular basis. The well-preserved fossil bird dinosaur was about the size of a crow, and had four wings. Scientists christened it Microraptor, and are debating what it ate and whether the creature could really fly, or if the wings were useless for flight and had some other function. Talk about truth being stranger than fiction.
Yesterday, while the dogs were inside eating dinner, I watched a Cooper ’s hawk fly into the yard and go hunting on foot beneath the rose bushes. He was intent on scratching in the fallen leaves for prey, darting here and there, looking for dinner. The rose bushes are right next to the bird feeder, and no doubt he had found a meal or two using this approach in the past. I watched for almost ten minutes as he thoroughly searched the underbrush. He was stealthy and quick, like the dread Veloceraptors in Crichton’s Jurassic Park, but on a much smaller scale. It made me think of Microraptor.