Robert Thomas Bakker

Robert Thomas Bakker (born March 24, 1945) is an American Paleontologist known for his contribution to the “Dinosaur Renaissance” and his support of his mentor Ostrom’s theory that some dinosaurs were warm-blooded. He specializes in the ecological context and behavior of dinosaurs.

Bakker was born in Bergen County, New Jersey. As a young boy, he developed an interest in dinosaurs following his first trip to the dinosaur exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History – he was enamored. A few years later, in 1953, the cover of an issue of Life Magazine caught his eye – it showed a portion of Rudolph Zallinger’s mural “The Age of Reptiles” at Yale’s Peabody Museum. He read the accompanying article and was hooked; dinosaurs were his future. In 1963, Bakker graduated Ridgewood High School and found himself at Yale University, studying under John Ostrom. It was Ostrom’s new theory on endothermic dinosaurs that would propel his later studies.

After receiving a bachelor’s degree from Yale, Bakker began his graduate studies in Anatomy and Zoology at Harvard. In 1971 he received his PhD from Harvard and accepted a position with Johns Hopkins University in Maryland as an Anatomy professor. His dinosaur research continued alongside John Ostrom, and he published his first paper on dinosaur endothermy in 1968. In it he related that almost all upright animals today are warm-blooded, and the hearts of these animals can pump much more effectively than cold-blooded animals. This supports the theory that many of these upright dinosaurs such as Brachiosaurus and Deinoychus must be warm-blooded. The paper also established factors of habitat, life-span, metabolism, and growth rates that further prove the creatures’ endothermic nature.

Bakker’s writings continued; he published an article in Scientific American entitled “Dinosaur Renaissance” in April of 1975. With a desire to expand his work to the general public, outside the scientific realm, he wrote a novel entitled Raptor Red. The novel describes a year in the life of a female Utahraptor of the lower Cretaceous, and elaborates on his theories of the behavior of the “raptor” dinosaurs, dromaeosaurids. He later published another book, The Dinosaur Heresies, which further delves into the theories discussed in his 1968 paper that dinosaurs were warm-blooded. His media presence continued when he was caricatured in The Lost World: Jurassic Park. The character of the bearded paleontologist Dr. Robert Burke, who was eaten by a Tyrannosaurus rex, was based on Bakker.

However well-published Bakker became, it did not prevent him from doing his share of field work. He participated in expeditions as far away as South Africa and Mongolia, and has regularly excavated in Como Bluff, Wyoming since he began in 1974. It was Bakker who revealed the first evidence of parental care at nesting sites for the Allosaurus. He was also the first to suggest that dinosaurs had feathers, a theory proven true in China during the 1990s.

Science and religion do not always intertwine, but Bakker believes there is no real conflict. As a Pentecostal preacher, he believes one should be open-minded when it comes to evolution and creationism. He has advised scientists and creationists to read Saint Augustine, who argued against a literal translation of the Book of Genesis.

Bakker currently serves in a number of paleontological positions. He is a Visiting Curator of Paleontology for the Houston Museum of Natural Science, Adjunct Curator at the Tate Museum at Casper College in Wyoming, and the Director of the Morrison Natural Museum in Colorado. He has residences in Colorado and Wyoming, where he leads guided fossil digs and lectures on prehistoric life.

Image Caption: Dr. Bob Bakker of the Houston Museum of Natural Science (HMNS) with Gorgosaurus. Credit: Ed Schipul/WIkipedia (CC BY-SA 2.0)