If all you know about dinosaurs comes from Jurassic Park and Jurassic World you’d be forgiven for thinking they’re all hellbent on eating Hollywood’s most delightful actors and occasionally looking sympathetic as we come to realize that man is the true monster. But dinosaurs roamed the earth for about 175 million years and you know they must have gotten a few things done in that time. Humans have only existed for about 200,000 years and we’ve already created burritos and HBO. With that in mind, here’s what you need to know about dinosaurs…
10. T.Rex Had 10-Inch Teeth
Everyone knows a Tyrannosaurus Rex was a living monster, but it’s hard to wrap your head around just how monstrous these things were if you haven’t seen a full skeleton in person and all you have to go on is what you’ve seen in movies. In real life, a T. Rex had teeth that were up to 10-inches long to the root. They were capable of taking a bite that weighed 500 pounds in their mouths at one time. Google says Chris Hemsworth weighs 220 pounds and Chris Evans weighs 200, so a T. Rex could eat both Thor and Captain America in one bite and still have room for a good portion of Iron Man’s 172 pounds.
While determining how a dinosaur must have lived so long ago isn’t easy, some scientists think the T. Rex might have been a scavenger like the hyena, roaming the countryside for carrion on which to feast. Other evidence has shown that perhaps the opposite was the case and that the T. rex’s imposing size and fearsome jaws were built for hunting like a lion. So what’s the definitive word on how a T. Rex hunted? No one knows for sure, and we may never know. What we do know is that whatever it chose to eat didn’t stand a chance.
9. Wishbones Come From Dinosaurs
You’ve probably heard that chickens are one of the closest living relatives to the T. Rex in the modern world, but the practical way in which that could be the case is difficult to understand. They walk on two legs, they have vicious little claws, what else is in common? Well it turns out there another weirdly easy to point to link between modern poultry and the tyrant lizards of old.
Like your Thanksgiving turkey, dinosaurs like the T. Rex had a wishbone. The furcula bone, the technical name for the wishbone, is unique to birds. They couldn’t achieve flight without their chest muscles attached to it. But dinosaurs had them, too. The two most famous residents of Jurassic Park, the raptor and the T. Rex, both had wishbones in their chests.
Why did a massive lizard incapable of flight need the bone birds use to fly? The working theory is that it supported their chest muscles, allowing them to grapple with prey.
8. Brontosaurus Was a Real Thing
For many a year the brontosaurus was known to every kid who knew anything about dinosaurs. They were the big ones with the long necks and the long tails. Then one day someone said nope, not a thing.
The story goes back to 1879 when the first brontosaurus fossil was found and named by Othniel Charles Marsh. In 1903, a different paleontologist determined that brontosaurus was in fact apatosaurus, which had existed in the literature since 1877. It came first, so brontosaurus became apatosaurus. It wasn’t until 2015 that there was enough fossil evidence to suggest that brontosaurus wasn’t just a misnamed apatosaurus but that it was its own distinct genus separate from apatosaurus and so it came blazing back to life, so to speak, as its own dinosaur again.
7. The Smallest Dinosaur Was Very, Very Small
Thanks to the over-the-top effects of Jurassic World we’ve come to expect all dinosaurs are big enough to if not swallow us whole, at least dismember us with minimal effort. Sure, they tossed those tiny compsognathuses into the original Jurassic Park but they were mostly an afterthought. In real life, they were the norm. Most dinosaurs were actually quite small. The real life velociraptors were the size of chickens or turkeys, the ones we saw in the movie were closer to Utahraptors and not typical of most raptors at all. And the smallest of all dinosaurs? The size of a bee hummingbird, around 2 inches in length.
In the perfect Jurassic Park-ian twist, this tiny guy was discovered in amber, just like the mosquitoes from the movie. The 99 million year old fossil was found in Myanmar and features the miniscule head of this little terrible lizard preserved in golden amber. Even though it was just a preserved head, scientists guess this creature weighed maybe 2 grams, or about the weight of two dollar bills.
6. The Biggest Dinosaur Was Very, Very Big
Have you ever wondered just how big dinosaurs could get? You need look no further than Argentinosaurus and its titanosaur brethren if you want to fully appreciate just how massive these beasts really were. The fossilized remains of one found in 2014 indicate the animal weighed around 77 tons and was probably 40 meters, or about 130 feet, in length. It would have been the largest thing to ever walk the face of the Earth by a longshot and, at 77 tons, it weighed as much as 14 elephants or about 36 Tesla Model S’s.
If you ran across an Argentinosaurus or its similarly sized family members in the wild, you’d have to look out of a 7th story window to make eye contact. This was a big boy in every way.
5. There are 700 Species of Dinosaurs
There are over 340 breeds of dogs in the world right now, and over 100 breeds of cat. There are also 36 separate cat species like lions, ocelots, tigers and so on. Pretty diverse, overall. How did dinosaurs stack up? There were over 700 different species. That includes 300 genera along with the 700 species and it doesn’t include the flying types or the ones in the sea. Factor in the knowledge that the fossil record is not complete and we keep discovering new dinosaurs every year and you can safely say “over” 700. That’s some incredible diversity of life.
When we look back at dinosaurs now it’s easy to forget just how long these creatures were walking the other. They were on the earth 875 times longer than we have been. It’s hard to wrap your head around that number. Whole species rose and fell and new ones took their place over entire epochs. It’s just so far removed from our day to day lives that we lump them all together as though they had been attendees at the same party.
4. Megalosaurus Was the First Dinosaur
With so many different dinosaur species there had to be that first one. One person who found it, one fossil that kicked off the whole era of paleontology. The man was William Buckland. The fossil was megalosaurus. No doubt many people around the world had found fossils for years previously, Reverend Robert Plot had found a massive thigh bone in 1676 and assumed it was from a species of ancient giants, but Buckland’s megalosaurus was the first one that had science applied to its description and understanding.
Buckland found the megalosaurus in 1819 and by 1824 had described it fully, thinking it was an ancient, giant reptile. This predated the very word dinosaur so he didn’t have that label to apply to it. He called it megalosaurus because it meant “great lizard,” which was an apt name. And since dinosaurs had not even been officially categorized no one even knew what megalosaurus was. It was just a big lizard.
3. Dinosaurs Were Warm-Blooded
If there’s one thing everyone knows separates a lizard like a dinosaur from a mammal like a hyena it’s that the dinosaur is cold-blooded and the hyena is warm-blooded. Except that’s not the case. While the original thinking was that dinosaurs were cold-blooded, that then evolved into a belief some might be in between warm and cold-blooded and now new evidence has shown dinosaurs may very well have all been warm-blooded.
While it’s common knowledge that birds evolved from dinosaurs, they evolved from one kind of dinosaur, the theropods. That those were warm-blooded isn’t too hard to believe. But as we know there were a lot of different kinds of dinosaurs and they didn’t all turn into chickens. So how can you tell if other dinosaurs were warm blooded?
Science is the friend of the researcher and there’s a way to analyze egg shells to determine the temperature of the organic matter that had been inside of it. It involves measuring carbon and oxygen isotopes. The result of that was researchers determining it wasn’t just theropods that were warm-blooded but sauropods too. Those were the giant, long-necked dinosaurs like brontosaurus. And analysis of another egg belonging to a third, duck-billed species also indicates they were warm-blooded. That would have included things like triceratops in the warm-blooded category. So even though there is evidence the body temperatures of some would have dipped low sometimes, it’s a trait shared by other warm-blooded species as well.
2. Mammals and Dinos Lived Together For A Long Time
Though dinosaurs ruled the Earth for quite a long time before the rise of the mammals these weren’t exclusive and separate moments in time. Mammals didn’t come from the ashes of dinosaurs so much as they just played second stage during the reign of the giant lizards. Our warm blooded and furry relatives coexisted with dinosaurs for a very long time. As in about 150 million years. If you were following the timeline there you remember that dinosaurs existed for 175 million years so mammals were there almost the entire time.
Alongside mammals were the proto-mammals that had fur and claws and all that jazz but were still pretty lizard-like in the way they reproduced. Fossils indicate these early mammal ancestors had tiny brains, weren’t nourished by milk, and probably were born ready to fend for themselves like lizards rather than needing to be nurtured like typical mammal babies. These proto-mammals may have existed as far back as 208 million years ago before the Jurassic period even began. Looks like John Hammond should have thrown in some otters next to the raptors in Jurassic Park.
1. Dinosaurs Only Lived on Land
In the common parlance, the average person will tend to refer to anything that may have been a giant, man-eating or man-stomping monster as a dinosaur. That’s everything from a triceratops to a pterodactyl to that water-logged mosasaurus from Jurassic World. But in real life only one of those things is a dinosaur and that’s the triceratops.
To be a dinosaur, the animal has to have a hip joint that allows it to walk on land. If it doesn’t have that joint it’s not a dinosaur at all. So avian creatures from that time period could have been called pterosaurs but are not, by definition, dinosaurs. Anything that swam in the sea and couldn’t walk on land wasn’t a dinosaur, either. There were 38 genera of mosasaur, there were ichthyosaurs, and so on. Similar, but not the same. In fact, of the numerous creatures of the deep like mosasaur and plesiosaurs and nothosaurs were barely even related to one another and were not from the same family or order. Today, the only ancestor of any of those creatures we can point to is the sea turtle, while most went entirely extinct.