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Discovery Channel features anatomy professor on “terror birds”

Lawrence Witmer, Ph.D., lends expertise on brains and senses of prehistoric beasts

By Richard Heck

Sept. 9, 2009 

An anatomy professor from the Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine (OU-COM) will appear in a Discovery Channel six-part series titled “MegaBeasts.” 

Lawrence Witmer, Ph.D., professor of biomedical sciences and Chang Professor of Paleontology discusses his research on “terror birds”—extinct, gigantic, flightless predatory birds—in the first episode, which airs Sunday, Sept. 13, at 9 p.m.

Terror birds evolved in South America, but, about four million years ago, one giant species invaded North America. This bipedal beast stood seven feet tall, weighed 300 pounds and wielded a deadly 28-inch beak. Terror birds competed and likely engaged in battle with saber-toothed cats and prehistoric wolves.

Each episode of “MegaBeasts” unfolds like a detective story, reviving some of the largest and most ferocious creatures ever to roam the earth. Through fossil clues and modern analogues (modern animals with similar physical traits that may suggest prehistoric behavior), scientists piece together what these mysterious creatures may have looked like, how they lived, and what they ate—as well as what ate them.

Witmer was tapped for his research on the brains, skulls and sensory organs of extinct animals and their modern descendants. He and his research team use computerized tomography (CT) scans to render 3-D images of skulls and other anatomical structures at O’Bleness Memorial Hospital in Athens.

A second sneak-peek episode of “MegaBeasts” will air Sunday at 10 p.m., while the remaining four episodes will air during Discovery Channel’s upcoming “Dino December,” featuring other all-new dinosaur specials. At that time, Witmer will appear in another episode of  “MegaBeasts,” discussing the giant, sail-backed, predatory dinosaur Spinosaurus. He also will appear in December episodes of the Discovery series “Dino Body.” 

The Discovery Channel airs on channel 40 in the Athens area on Time Warner Cable (channel 762 in HD) and the Ohio University Catvision system, channel 24 on Nelsonville TV Cable, and channel 29 on Adelphia Communications cable system (channel 36 in Albany).

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