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Someone You Should Know: Connection to a dinosaur

Published: Feb. 24, 2021 at 6:58 PM CST
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - A college professor in Yankton has a special connection to a dinosaur that was on the earth 160-million years ago.

Dr. Alex Dececchi is in his first year as a professor of biology at Mount Marty University. The native of Canada, whose parents were educators, was meant to teach.

“I like when students get it. One of the most fun things especially at the end of a term, when the pieces that you taught them click together,” said Alex.

“One of my favorite things about him is his enthusiasm in the subject,” said student Salvador Chavez.

“It’s really easy to follow along with his class because he’s got that serious dad joke energy a lot of the times,” said student Aaron Steward.

A topic that Dr. Dececchi has a lot of energy and enthusiasm for, dinosaurs. Something he’s had a lifelong love of.

“The story my mother loves telling is, I was three years old and I was walking on a beach on Lake Ontario and she was explaining what a fossil was. And I stopped and reached down and said like this, and I picked up a fossil shell. And since then I’ve always been interested in fossils and paleontology,” said Alex.

For his doctorate, Alex studied the origin of bird flight.

“I spent years looking at that, looking at the biology, the anatomy. Looking at the environment around them to see how birds came about,” Alex said.

So when a fossil of a small flying dinosaur was discovered in China in 2015, Alex became involved.

“It had these weird bat-like skin wings. It did have some feathers but had these weird buck teeth. It’s a very strange creature. And so the question was when they first found it, is they said well it probably could fly because it looks like it has wings and that’s it. And I don’t really like when people say that’s it,” said Alex.

So Alex studied its ability to fly, which wasn’t good, and ultimately lead to their demise.

“So by the time true birds came around, these guys just got squashed out between a rock and hard place. There was nowhere for them to go,” Alex said.

A paper Alex did, along with researchers in China on this dragon-like creature got national and international attention. Dr. Dececchi will continue to keep his student’s attention, with his love of dinosaurs.

“The present is the key to the past is a general saying in geology. But the past is also the key to the present to understand why the world looks the way it does now. We have to understand where it came from,” said Alex.

This is why he hopes to teach a full course on dinosaurs, someday. He will be doing more research on dinosaurs with his colleagues from China.

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