2362: Volcano Dinosaur

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Volcano Dinosaur
Phylogeneticists are working on identifying and notifying its next of kin.
Title text: Phylogeneticists are working on identifying and notifying its next of kin.


This comic is a reference to this discovery of fossils of dinosaurs that were buried and killed by a volcanic eruption.

Megan asks if the dinosaur was okay. As living things typically don't survive being fossilized in volcano debris[citation needed], the answer to the question would obviously be "no", but Cueball replies that he is unsure. Even if the dinosaur somehow survived the initial burial, it would be very difficult for it to survive being buried for 125 million years. 2020 probably wouldn't be the best year to dig it up and potentially let it free.

It is not an uncommon shortcut to refer to finds of relatively intact fossilized pieces of an animal using wording that sounds like they found an entire animal intact, as in the headline "New dinosaur discovered" rather than a wordier but more accurate "the fossil of a new dinosaur" or "the fossilized bones of a new dinosaur". Most parts of an animal dead for millions of years don't survive that length of time, and those that do are usually transformed into something else, such as bones becoming fossilized into rock and minerals.

Megan's response is natural and expected in many situations when hearing of a person or creature experiencing misfortune. The humor here comes from the inaptness of asking the question millions of years after the event. Rather than responding to the ridiculousness of Megan's question, Cueball takes it seriously, and deadpans that he can't tell.

The title text suggests contacting its "next of kin", which usually means a nearest living relative, e.g. a brother or a sister, and if not, the parents. The process of identifying and contacting next of kin is a standard step performed by authorities in the event of a death being discovered. The reason for this step is to allow the next of kin to exercise their rights to the property of the deceased under inheritance law. In this case, non-avian dinosaurs are extinct[citation needed], so it is the job of phylogeneticists (those who study evolutionary relationships) to determine which living animal (presumably a bird of some kind) is the "nearest relative" to the deceased dinosaurs. However, even if the correct species could be identified, the specific animal would be all but impossible to find. Statistically speaking, that dinosaur is almost certainly either a direct ancestor of all living birds, or else an ancestor of no living birds.


[Megan is standing facing right, talking to Cueball who is sitting at a computer desk and also facing right, looking at a computer screen.]
Cueball: Oh cool, they just found a dinosaur that was buried by a volcanic eruption 125 million years ago.
Megan: Wow.
[Pause. Megan is still facing right. Panel closes in on Megan and Cueball is not shown. This panel has no dialogue.]
[Megan has stepped closer to Cueball, who leans in and is still looking at the screen.]
Megan: Was it okay?
Cueball: Hmm, it doesn't say.

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The nearest living relative of any 125 million-year-old dinosaur is all living birds. They are all descended from the same "stem bird," which was a dinosaur of a different group. Nitpicking (talk) 02:08, 22 September 2020 (UTC)

But some living birds will be fewer generations removed from that dinosaur than others Jeremyp (talk) 08:57, 22 September 2020 (UTC).
True, but is a 100,000,000th cousin that different from a 100,000,001th cousin? Nitpicking (talk) 11:25, 22 September 2020 (UTC)
Why would birds be closer relation than reptiles, since the dinosaurs were reptiles? SDSpivey (talk) 21:00, 23 September 2020 (UTC)
Being compulsive about explaining taxonomy: birds are closer to dinosaurs than to other reptiles because birds are dinosaurs. Living reptiles (common usage) are mostly not especially close relatives of the dinosaur clade, including the flying dinosaurs. The crocodilians are thought to be the closest surviving relatives of the dinosaurs, and all crocodilians are equally closely related (barring different numbers of intervening generations) to all birds. Nitpicking (talk) 16:14, 19 November 2023 (UTC)
One might wade in caustic lakes, except when it flies to its feeding grounds, the other breeds in icy wastes and be flightless but a superb swimmer in freezing oceans. And if there's a large intestate estate needing to be inherited then be prepared for legal challenges! 11:47, 22 September 2020 (UTC)
Just in case, if you have a parrot you should ask it if its family has any stories of a great-to-the-millionth uncle who went missing around the time of an eruption. Barmar (talk) 13:37, 22 September 2020 (UTC)
But how close are parrots to dinosaurs? They might be the poor dino's 100,000,002nd cousin. Donthaveusername (talk)
That would depend on the value of the estate. BunsenH (talk) 17:32, 22 September 2020 (UTC)
After 65 million years of inflation and compounding, it must be worth quite a bit. Barmar (talk) 17:40, 22 September 2020 (UTC)
Compounding would indeed increase the value, but wouldn't inflation decrease the value? The value after 125 million years should depend on which factor is outpacing the other, on average. Also, bird species with short generations would be more distantly related than bird species with long generations. 23:49, 22 September 2020 (UTC)
That would depend upon many things, like how it turns out if progeniture is the basis of branch-prioritisation (male/female-preference giving different results to the absolute version) and sallic (including semi-sallic and quasi-sallic) rules which could see an entitlement even dive back up out of the avian branch and down into any other sprawl of the tree-of-life... 01:27, 23 September 2020 (UTC)
This specimen is described as "basal ornithopod dinosaur" which means it is close to root of the species and is also described as adapted for burrowing which would make it a very unlikely to fly. So it seems to me that there is very low possibility that there are any DIRECT descendants. So to find the "closest living relative" would require going back up many prior generations to find an ancestor of modern birds. Unless birds are descended from burrowing dinosaurs who escaped getting wiped out with all the other dinosaurs.

I'm only who feeling that [CITATION NEEDED] joke is overused by now? In every second comic there is [CITATION NEEDED] at least once. We have around 450 pages with that, https://www.explainxkcd.com/wiki/index.php?title=Special:WhatLinksHere/285:_Wikipedian_Protester 09:15, 23 September 2020 (UTC) LauLain

There are 358 links to that page from actual comics (excluding redirect, talk pages, etc.). Since we have 2,362 comics, that's around 15% of the explanations. Quite high, but I guess not really overused, especially since it's not annoying. Justhalf (talk) 09:33, 23 September 2020 (UTC)
Links or pages? Some pages, like this one, have multiple links to it. JBYoshi (talk) 17:30, 23 September 2020 (UTC)

Why would 2020 not be a good year to dig it up and potentially let it free? 2020 is the perfect year for that. Let's get all the scary stuff over with so we can move on. I say we use the remaining three months of the year to open as many sealed graves, haunted houses and such things as possible. Bischoff (talk) 19:35, 23 September 2020 (UTC)

Well, I tried to build my luxury hotel and backpacker's hostel in the woodlands that grew over the old Indian Burial Ground that they burnt all those witches in, but my builders said they were still too busy building the secret government bunker for extradimensional gateway research and development of an RNA-based immortality serum for the military. 20:14, 23 September 2020 (UTC)
We don't know if COVID-19 can infect dinosaurs. (Probably not, it seems to only infect mammals.) 06:12, 24 September 2020 (UTC)

Chronostratigraphy update: 125 million years ago was in the Barremian age in the Lower Cretaceous.