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The Real Party Starts When You Get To Learn About Dinosaurs

, , , , , , | Friendly | December 20, 2021

I was attending a Fourth of July party at a friend’s house years ago. Since I’m a gigantic man-child that loves kids, due to their being closer to my maturity level, I was relegated to watching the kids in the playroom while the proper adults did adulty things. I didn’t know most of the kids there, as they were the family of my friend’s new wife. I’m surprisingly terrible at guessing kids’ ages given how much I hang out with them, but I’d say the kid in this story was probably around six or seven.

Me: “Yeah, I like dinosaurs. They’re awesome. In fact, I was listening to a few of them this morning.”

Kid: “You were? On TV?”

Me: “No, outside, while I was walking to my car to drive here I was watching and listening to some of them.”

Kid: “There are no dinosaurs outside.”

Me: “Sure, there are. They just look a bit different than you’re thinking of.”

Kid: “You’re joking?”

Me: “Nope. The dinosaurs ended up evolving into birds, so whenever you look at a bird, you’re really looking at a flying dinosaur in disguise!”

Kid: “Oh, so you mean they de-evolved?”

Me: “There is no such thing as de-evolving, except in really bad TV shows.”

Kid: “Huh?”

Me: “You think evolving means getting bigger and stronger, right?”

Kid: “Yeah.”

Me: “But that’s not what it means. Evolving means getting better at surviving and having kids. Sometimes the best way to do that is to be bigger and stronger, but sometimes the best way is to get smaller and weaker. But that’s not de-evolving; it’s evolving to be weaker because that’s the best way to survive.”

Kid: “Why would you get weaker?”

Me: “Because then you don’t have to find enough food to feed your big strong body. All the big dinosaurs probably froze or starved to death after a meteor hit the earth, but some of the small ones were able to find ways to survive and find enough food. So being small and not needing as much food was better than being big and strong and starving.”

Kid: “But couldn’t they evolve to not eat as much without getting weaker?”

Me: “Everything costs something. Sometimes animals find ways to evolve to be more efficient, to be better at something without giving anything else up, but usually, animals need to give up something to get better at something else. And usually, being stronger means eating more or taking longer to grow up, but that can be a problem for other reasons.”

Kid: “So they became birds when the meteor hit so they wouldn’t starve?”

Me: “Kind of. There were already dinosaurs that looked a lot like birds today when the others died out. In fact, part of the reason the dinosaur birds survived may have been because they had a beak that was better at getting and eating the kind of food that was left after the meteor. But those dinosaurs continued to change for millions of years before they became the sort of birds you’re used to.”

Kid: “Millions of years?!”

Me: “Yep, I think it was around sixty million years or so, but I’m not really sure.”

Kid: “That’s a long time!”

Me: “Yes, it is, but all that really matters is that those dinosaurs turned into birds. So, now, whenever you hear a bird singing, you should tell your friends you just heard a dinosaur!”

Later that day, once the rest of the guests arrived and the pool party moved out to the pool, I heard the kid talking to his parents.

Kid: “Hey, Dad, did you know birds are dinosaurs?!”

I’ve since attended many parties hosted by this friend; his new wife is very sociable and their mini-mansion with a pool makes a good party location. I’ve run into this same kid many times, and every time since our first conversation he always ends up asking me some sort of question about animals or evolution. I had only meant to mess with the kids a little, but I’m happy to have instead sparked a real interest in learning about evolution and science in a child.

Now I just need to get around figuring out how exactly he’s related to my friend, or perhaps what his name is?

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