Dinosaurs have captured our imagination since their remains were first discovered and identified back in 1864, and scientists have spent the last 200 years trying to fully understand these creatures who once ruled the Earth. But it seems like new discoveries change the dinosaur game every few decades, and we’re forced to redraw our ideas about dinosaurs once again. Even so, there are many dinosaur myths that continue to roam around despite these new discoveries, and it’s about time for these myths and misconceptions to go extinct once and for all.
10. Tyrannosaurus Rex Had Wimpy Arms
The Tyrannosaurus Rex is simultaneously considered the epitome of the dinosaur’s savagery and brute strength while serving as the butt of many jokes due to his little arms, which people have always assumed to be weak.
But according to scientific research the T. Rex’s arms may have been only three feet long but they were super strong. They were able to lift hundreds of pounds with ease, could most definitely beat you in arm wrestling, and could have easily torn a person’s arm off and beat them over the head with it – if only they had the reach to do so.
9. Just About Every Ancient Animal is A Dinosaur
Many people use the blanket term “dinosaur” to describe any and all creatures that lived during the Dinosaur Eras that extended from the Triassic to the Cretaceous periods. But the term dinosaur really only applies to a specific group of creatures that lived during these eras.
Pterodactyls (and we’ll get back to these guys a little later) aren’t taxonomically classified in the same genus as dinosaurs, and neither are those splish splashin’ Pleiosaurs. And that doesn’t even begin to cover the mammals and fish of the era.
8. Dinosaurs Dragged Their Tails
It’s uncommon for modern animals to walk around dragging their tails, so why should it be any different for the dinosaurs? And yet the misconception that dinosaurs are the same as the lizards of today extends to this as well, and they are still often portrayed dragging their tails when they appear anywhere in pop culture.
So how do scientists know dinosaurs didn’t drag their tails? Because paleontologists haven’t found tail drag marks along with the thousands of dinosaur footprints discovered during their digs, and drag marks made by tails that big would have been pretty hard to miss!
7. Dinosaurs Were Bad Parents
The perception of dinosaurs as nothing but giant lizards has led to the misconception that they were bad parents – like monitor lizards and iguanas who simply lay their eggs then abandon them to save their own skin. But there is new evidence that suggests many species of dinosaurs actually cared for their young after they hatched, based on the discovery of the fossilized remains of an adult from the species Philydrosauras surrounded by six juveniles. These semi-aquatic dinosaurs existed during the Jurassic period and so far this is the oldest record of any reptile caring for its young.
Other fossil records show a small, lizard-like dinosaur called the pelycosaur had some sort of babysitting colony as multiple young were found outside of a nest area with one adult of the species. Given how rare discoveries like these are, it’s hard to say how common post-natal care was among dinosaurs, but it is entirely possible that it was far more common among these prehistoric creatures than it is around modern reptiles since only 5% of living reptile species care for their young.
6. Dinosaurs Were the First Reptiles to Rule the Earth
Since the dinosaurs ruled the Earth for millions of years before man, it’s commonly assumed they were the first (and only) reptiles to rule the Earth. Many people even have a hard time imagining a time before the rule of the terrible lizards. But scientists have discovered the remains of a group of creatures that predated the dinosaurs by millions of years, a group they’ve designated “the ugliest fossil reptiles.”
They’re officially known as Pareiasaurs and according to paleontologist Michael Benton from the University of Bristol “they represent the pinnacle of the evolution of vertebrates on land before the dinosaurs.” Like dinosaurs, these creatures were also chunky with stumpy legs and armor-plated bodies to protect them against predators. They averaged about 10-feet long. Pareiasaurs roamed the Earth for about 10 million years, around 252 million years ago, until a mass extinction event wiped out 90% of the creatures, leaving the door wide open for the dinosaurs.
5. Dinosaurs Terrorized Mammals and Other Non-Dinosaurs
Whenever the mighty dinosaurs go stomping through the swamps and jungles in the movies, a bunch of mammals scatter and hide from the terrible lizards. After all, the furry creatures’ small size naturally would make them easy targets for a rampaging dino. But despite what you see on screen and our modern perception of giant and fearsome dinosaurs, many of these beasts were actually preyed upon and picked on by mammals and other non-dinosaurs like the nightmarish Razanandrongobe sakalavae, a relative of the crocodile that would devour dinos as a group.
Mammals, on the other hand, would use their small size as an advantage against the dinosaurs, slipping into a dinosaur’s nest unseen and devouring their young before they could hatch, much like rats do to some alpha predators today. In fact, some scientists have theorized that mammals gobbling up dino eggs could have led to the demise of dinosaurs.
4. The Pterodactyl and the Archaeoraptor Existed (At Least As You Know Them)
In our 10 terrifying facts about the dinosaurs article, we previously discussed how brontosauruses never technically existed because they were actually just juvenile apatosauruses, which were already known about when the “brontosaurus” was first “discovered.” As it turns out, these types of mistakes are somewhat common.
Pterodactyls are a staple of dinosaur legend, and they appear in just about every film or TV show that features dinosaurs, but not only are those winged reptiles not really dinosaurs – the pterodactyl as we know it never existed. The real pterodactyl was a small flying reptile from the Jurassic period with a mere 3 to 4-foot wingspan, and had small teeth at the front of its jaw rather than a beak and no crest on the top of its head. What most people call a pterodactyl was actually a pteranodon, a Cretaceous animal with a wingspan that measured 23-feet wide, a beak, and a crest on the back of its head (or at least the male’s head).
At least the pterodactyl actually existed, unlike the archaeoraptor, which was one of the biggest fossil hoaxes of all time and besmirched the reputation of National Geographic. The archaeoraptor is the find that first started the feathered dinosaurs debate, and yet it wasn’t really one find at all – because the fossil was constructed from three to five different specimens.
The original fossils were discovered by a farmer, but rather than just sell his finds, he decided to glue together several fossils into one whole specimen. Eventually the composite fossil was smuggled into the US and purchased by an amateur fossil collector named Stephen Czerkas for $80,000. Czerkas believed he had something special, so he invited a few experts in to take a look and then hopefully publish the find in Nature and Natural Geographic. But one of the experts, Phil Currie, quickly determined the tail and legs didn’t match the rest of the body.
The dinosaur collector somehow managed to urge Currie to keep quiet about his findings and one of the other experts prepared a paper for Nature, which was rejected since there wasn’t enough time for peer review. The paper was resubmitted to Science, where it was rejected because it was both illegally imported and obviously doctored. Somehow news of these rejections didn’t get to National Geographic, who decided to unveil the fossil and report about it assuming the discovery would eventually be published in a peer-reviewed science publication.
Only two months later, one of the experts on the team came forward with definitive proof that the fossil was a fake. To this day the story remains of the most embarrassing tales of fraud in paleontology.
3. Dinosaurs Died Out Because They Failed to Successfully Evolve
Short on answers about what actually caused the dinosaurs to go extinct, some scientists have chosen to focus on the idea that they died out because they were unsuccessful in evolution, unlike mammals who simply evolved to survive in the harsh post-meteor strike climate conditions. However, this theory has mostly been debunked given that both mammals and dinosaurs existed at this time and just like many dinosaurs evolved to survive the mass extinction, many mammals you’ve probably never heard of, like triconodontids, spalacotheroids, dryolestids, and multituberculates, went extinct. While you may not see many giant lizard-looking creatures roaming the planet these days, there are plenty of birds (three times as many as there are mammals, to be more specific), which are descendants of dinosaurs.
Moreover, even if dinosaurs all died out completely, it doesn’t mean they didn’t evolve at all. In fact, dinosaurs were the dominant life form on land for 135 million years, which is more than twice the amount of time mammals have reigned supreme. The reason they were so successful is precisely because they did evolve – ranging from pigeon-sized creatures to 70-ton herbivores that remain the largest animals to ever walk on land. Dinosaurs filled every niche and thrived on every continent. There were so many species of dinosaurs around that scientists uncover a new species every 1.5 weeks.
The bottom line is that dinosaurs were masters of evolution and simply because they happened to die off at higher numbers than mammals did doesn’t mean their demise came down to adaptability. A lot happened at the end of the Cretaceous period and scientists still don’t fully understand all of the factors that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs – and their research into the topic has been made particularly difficult given that most dinosaur fossils have been found in North America, where the extinction likely happened much more quickly and dramatically than in other areas of the earth because that is where the famed asteroid hit.
2. An Asteroid Impact Alone Killed the Dinosaurs
As we already mentioned in the last entry, yes, a giant asteroid probably happened right as the extinction-level event that wiped out the dinosaurs started. But that was by no means the only factor in the mass extinction – and it may not have been responsible at all.
Assuming the asteroid, known as Chicxulub, was the smoking gun behind the mass extinction, the asteroid’s actual landing wasn’t the only driving force – after all, even with a 110-mile impact radius and a crash that would have released 10 billion times the energy of the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima, that still leaves wide swaths of the Earth safe from the harm. The impact, which occurred along the southern side of the Gulf of Mexico, caused a towering tsunami that reached all the way to Montana, Wyoming, and the Dakotas. It also may have triggered massive earthquakes around the globe.
But it was what happened over the next few years that really would have doomed the worldwide eco-system. Scientific models show that the impact would have also caused enough soot and dust to rise to the sky and block the sun for two full years. This would have caused two major problems. First, plants that rely on photosynthesis would have all died out and even the plants and animals that could survive without sun had to deal with a drastic drop in world temperatures. The average global temperature would have dropped 30 degrees Fahrenheit, though the change would have been drastically worse in temperate areas like the equatorial area of the Pacific Ocean.
But then as the skies cleared again, the increased carbon in the environment would have led to global warming – meaning areas like Antarctica that fared OK during the worldwide darkness would have suddenly had their ecosystems thrown into chaos.
But the asteroid may not have been the cause of the dinosaur’s demise at all. Instead, the thing responsible for the global extinction event may have been brewing 250,000 years before Chicxulub hit the earth and for another 500,000 years after. Scientists have recently started considering that a supervolcano in India (which was its own landmass near Madagascar at the time) may have actually been responsible for the mass-extinction that killed off 3/4 of life on this planet.
The volcanic eruptions went on so fervently and so frequently that over 300,000 cubic miles of molten rock and debris would have been left behind – and even more gases. In fact, scientists who have studied the effects of the volcano’s eruption believe that the sheer amount of carbon dioxide released would have made the oceans too acidic for most creatures. The carbon dioxide would have also led to a global warming event, increasing local temperatures by 14 degrees Fahrenheit.
Some scientists believe the asteroid and volcano might have been jointly responsible, arguing that the impact of the asteroid and the resulting earthquakes made the volcanic eruptions worse. Add to the global temperatures rising, falling, and then rising even higher than pre-impact temperatures, giant tsunamis, acidic oceans, earthquakes, complete darkness for two years, and so forth, and it’s easy to see how so many plants and animals could have been wiped from the planet in such a short amount of time.
1. Dinosaurs All Existed at the Same Time
There’s a group of dinosaurs which have always been lumped together and appear in every dinosaur themed bit of pop culture – the T. Rex, stegosaurus, pterosaurs, brontosaurus, triceratops, and the apatosaurus. This group just looks right to everyone who grew up watching movies and TV shows with dinosaurs in them, but this grouping of creatures is pure fiction, because they didn’t exist at the same time and some of them aren’t even technically considered dinosaurs. T. Rex is from the Cretaceous era and co-existed with the triceratops, apatosaurus, and allosaurus, but stegosaurus predates the T.Rex by millions of years. Pterodactyls likewise predate the T. Rex, although as we mentioned before, they aren’t even classified as dinosaurs.
The Mesozoic Era of the dinosaurs technically spans over the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous time periods and it shouldn’t come as much of a shock that most dinosaur species didn’t survive all three. The Triassic period took place just after a mass-extinction that took out over 65% of all land-dwelling animals and 95% of all sea life, so the creatures that lived in that period were survivors from the past extinction event. Then there was a smaller extinction event that separated the Triassic and Jurassic periods, so plenty of creatures from the prior era never made it to the latter. It wasn’t until the Cretaceous period that dinosaur diversity reached its peak, so many of the most famous and beloved dinosaurs were actually from this era, like the T. Rex and triceratops.