Today is April 18, 2021

Published 11:07 am Sunday, April 18, 2021

National Velociraptor Awareness Day

If you’ve ever seen the movies Jurassic Park or Jurassic World, then you probably already have a mental image of what a “raptor” looks like. Would you believe there are real raptors flying the skies today? It’s true! Oh, and don’t believe everything you see in the movies…

The word “raptor” comes from the Latin word rapere, which means “to seize or take by force.” Raptor is a general term used informally to refer to all birds of prey.

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Bird enthusiasts occasionally limit their use of the term “raptor” to refer to birds of prey who hunt during the day. This separates them from nocturnal birds of prey, like owls.

Birds of prey are those birds that hunt for food from the air. They have exceptional sight that allows them to spot prey from a great distance. In fact, birds of prey have the keenest eyesight in nature with rapid focus and superior depth perception.

Some examples of birds of prey include hawks, vultures, falcons, condors, and eagles. They tend to have large curved beaks and sharp talons that are very powerful.

They use these body parts to catch, kill and tear off the flesh of their prey. Their talons allow them to pick up and carry prey great distances, while their sharp beaks are perfect for tearing off bite-sized pieces.

Most birds of prey hunt for vertebrates (animals with backbones) that can include mammals, fish, or other birds. Often, the prey can be quite large compared to the size of the bird. Most raptors, especially vultures and condors, also eat the carcasses of dead animals — called carrion.

Their predatory lifestyle puts raptors at the top of the food chain. Unfortunately, this means that raptors are sometimes endangered species, because they struggle to survive when food is difficult to find.

So what about those dinosaur raptors that made the Jurassic Park movie series such a success? As it turns out, Velociraptors were indeed real dinosaurs. However, they didn’t look or behave exactly like the way the movies portrayed them.

Where the movie raptors had skin like lizards and were extremely smart, paleontologists would tell you that these types of dinosaurs — called dromaeosaurs — were much smaller (the size of children), about as smart as the average hummingbird and most certainly were covered in feathers.

Paleontologists have found fossilized remains of Velociraptor mongoliensis in Mongolia. From their study of these remains, they know that the moviemakers definitely used a little Hollywood magic to create a creature that was quite a bit different than the real-life dinosaurs that lived over 70 million years ago.

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Go fly a kite day

No one knows for sure who first attached a paper membrane to a stiff frame with string and watched it float off in the breeze. Traditionally, historians give credit for the invention of the kite to the Chinese. They admit, though, that China may get credit simply because its history has been well-preserved in written records.

One popular Chinese legend tells the story of a Chinese farmer who tied his hat to his head with a piece of string to keep it from blowing away. In a stubborn wind, the hat nevertheless managed to float off for a ways with the farmer trailing behind it holding the string. Thus, the legend says, the kite was born.

Modern historians have found evidence in the oral histories of Malaysia, Indonesia, Hawaii, Polynesia and New Zealand that indicates that kites may have been independently invented in these areas at about the same time they were first seen in China.

If we look solely at written history, though, Chinese philosopher Mo-tse was arguably the first person ever to build a kite. Mo-tse lived from approximately 468 B.C. to around 376 B.C.

Written records indicate that he created a kite in the shape of a bird over the course of three years and then flew it only one day. Based on these records, it’s safe to say the kite has been around for at least 2,300 years!

The Chinese created a holiday — the Festival of Ascending on High — based on their love of kite flying. On the ninth day of the ninth month each year, the Chinese celebrate by flying kites.

Kites eventually made their way from Asia to the rest of the world. Marco Polo is given credit for bringing the kite to Europe after his trips to China.

Today, millions of people around the world, both young and old, fly kites just for the pure joy of it. But kites have served many purposes beyond entertainment.

In ancient China, General Han Hsin flew a kite over an enemy compound and used the length of the kite string to estimate how far his soldiers would need to tunnel to get inside.

Hundreds of years later, scientists used kites as tools for experimentation. Alexander Wilson used kites to lift thermometers high into the atmosphere to measure temperatures.

Of course, the most famous scientific experiment involving a kite has to be Ben Franklin’s legendary use of a kite and a metal key to study lightning during a thunderstorm.

Kites still serve important purposes today. In addition to being a favorite toy of children around the world, kites are used by fishermen to lay bait. They are also used by photographers to take pictures with a bird’s-eye view.

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