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This life-size Albertosaurus, sculpted by David A. Thomas, greets visitors to the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science. Photo by the author.

Laelaps Returns

For as long as I can remember, I’ve adored dinosaurs. My parents tell me that I loved trucks and elephants first, but I don’t remember those phases. As far as my spotty memory goes, “Brontosaurus” and company have always been there – real monsters that I hoped to study myself someday. My cherished collection of plastic toys, books, and videos fueled my fascination, as well as the January 1993 issue of National Geographic.

I still have the magazine. It’s missing a few pages that I cut out for a middle school science fair project poster, but otherwise intact. The magazine contains a perfect time capsule of dinosaurs as I encountered them as a child. Written by Rick Gore with photos by Louie Psihoyos and art by John Gurche, the feature celebrates dinosaurs in science and pop culture alike, presenting a gorgeous vignette of active, hot-blooded animals that were further entrenched in my imagination when Jurassic Park roared into theaters later that same year.

A few weeks ago, after I accepted National Geographic executive science editor Jamie Shreeve’s generous invitation to bring Laelaps to this new collective, I pulled the issue off my bookshelf again. The dinosaurs don’t look so new anymore, and many lack the lovely plumage and other ornamental integument that we now know various species had. Yet the piece is still a pleasure to pore over – it’s a summary of how the “Dinosaur Renaissance” transformed visions of the prehistoric celebrities, and how the last generation of researchers set the stage for the burgeoning “Dinosaur Enlightenment.”

Jurassic Park and other bits of dinosauriana presented me with the results of paleontology, but that National Geographic article expressed the romance of paleontology. I didn’t want to just learn about what researchers like Paul Sereno, Jack Horner, John Ostrom, and Bob Bakker were doing; I wanted to chase dinosaurs just as they did. I’ve had a chance to do a little of that in the badlands of Utah, New Mexico, and Montana, but the unwieldy, unconventional trajectory of my post-college life has given me a different outlet for my obsession with prehistory.

With a bit of skill, a lot of luck, and a gracious amount of kindness from friends, I’ve been able to hack it as a science writer. From my unremarkable beginnings as an independent blogger six years ago, I’ve been fortunate to blog for, WIRED Science, and Smithsonian, not to mention write for a variety of popular publications and have two books down (with more on the way). I never intended to be a professional science writer, but this is the pathway my passion for paleontology has led me down.

When my nine year old self picked up the dinosaur issue of National Geographic, I had no idea that I’d wind up writing about natural history and prehistoric life for a living, much less that I’d be a blogger for the very same magazine. And even though I’m not the professional paleontologist that I dreamed I would someday become, I can still credit a significant part of my scientific aspirations to that issue of National Geographic. The article showed me that dinosaurs were far more than old bones, and that I might someday have something to contribute to our ever-changing understanding of ancient lives.

All of this is the long way to say that I’m honored to have a place in this new pocket of the science writing ecosystem, especially alongside friends Ed Yong, Carl Zimmer, and Virginia Hughes. This is a dream come true for me, and I hope you’ll join me as I continue to tell tales of evolution, extinction, and survival through the ages.