Info Bites: 10 Amazing Facts about Dinosaurs You Probably Didn’t Know About

For more than a hundred years, dinosaurs have captured imaginations and spawned an entire sub-genre of fiction. However, the dinosaurs portrayed by 1993’s Jurassic Park or even the much more recent Jurassic World are so far removed from reality as to be almost pure fantasy. As a result, most people have completely the wrong impression about dinosaurs. Most think of our reptilian ancestors as enormous, lumbering herbivores like the diplodocus or fast and ferocious monsters like the tyrannosaurus rex. The reality, though certainly no less captivating than the fantasy, is very different. Following are 10 amazing facts about dinosaurs to make the myths extinct:

#1. Many Dinosaurs Were Small

Compsognathus, one of the smallest dinosaurs ever discovered, weighed no more than 7.7 lb (3.5 kg).

While dinosaurs undoubtedly included the very largest land animals ever to exist, not all of them were towering beasts the size of buildings. In fact, many dinosaurs were much the same size as their avian descendants. Among the smallest and best known of these smaller dinosaurs is the compsognathus, sometimes referred to as the compy. Compsognathus was about the size of a chicken, although they were carnivores and, likely, voracious pack hunters as well. Another small dinosaur was the velociraptor which, growing little larger than a turkey, was completely unlike their cinematic versions.

#2. Some Dinosaurs Had Feathers

The velociraptor has been woefully misrepresented in popular culture. In reality, it looked more like a very unusual bird, complete with a full coat of feathers.

Dinosaurs were the ancestors of modern birds, so in keeping with their place in the timeline of evolution, many of them had feathers. In fact, the aforementioned velociraptor, was entirely covered in feathers making this most misrepresented dinosaur look something like a very strange bird. By the middle of the nineties, palaeontology had advanced to such an extent that it revolutionized our knowledge and impressions of dinosaurs. It is now also widely believed that even the infamous tyrannosaurus rex had vestigial feathers and, instead of those absurdly tiny arms it’s often portrayed to have, it probably had absurdly tiny wings instead.

#3. Not All ‘Dinosaurs’ Are Dinosaurs

DimetrodonDmitry Bogdanov

Not a dinosaur. Some 20 species of dimetrodon have been discovered, and they all lived between 272 and 295 million years ago, aeons before the dinosaurs.

In popular culture, every prehistoric reptile is referred to as a dinosaur, including animals like the pterosaurs, plesiosaurs, dimetrodons and mosasaurs. In fact, none of these best-loved creatures were dinosaurs at all, instead falling into quite different taxonomic groups. The dimetrodons, for example, existed almost 300 million years ago, some 70 million years before dinosaurs. Pterosaurs, often incorrectly referred to as flying dinosaurs, while coexisting with their flightless counterparts, formed an extremely diverse but entirely separate taxonomic group. The group also included quetzalcoatlus, the largest flying animal to ever live, with a wingspan of 52 feet.

#4. No Dinosaur Had Two Brains

Contrary to popular belief, stegosaurus did not have two brains. This myth came about due to the existence of a large cavity at the base of its spine, which assumedly housed a second brain.

An outdated but still popular myth is that many larger dinosaurs, particularly the stegosaurus, had two brains. Some palaeontologists used to explain the large cavity at the base of the stegosaurus’s spine as a location for a second ‘brain’, although this has long since been disproven. In fact, these dinosaurs had large nerve clusters at the bases of their spines, just as humans and many other animals do, but two brains? Definitely not. On a similar note, dinosaurs are often wrongly portrayed as being stupid, a belief for which there also isn’t much evidence to back up. In fact, there is evidence that some dinosaurs, such as raptors, were very smart indeed.

#5. Spinosaurus Is the Only Known Aquatic Dinosaur

Spinosaurus hunted both terrestrial and aquatic prey, and it was at least as large as the infamous giganotosaurus or the tyrannosaurus rex.

Since ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs and their successors the mosasaurs weren’t actually dinosaurs, there aren’t actually many aquatic dinosaurs left. The enormous beast depicted jumping out of the water in Jurassic World is actually a mosasaur, which grew to lengths of 50 feet. The only known actual dinosaur that was predominantly aquatic was the spinosaurus, a ferocious predator that hunted both terrestrial and aquatic prey, rather like a modern crocodile. The spinosaurus was also one of the largest carnivorous dinosaurs, perhaps even larger than the fabled tyrannosaurus or the giganotosaurus.

#6. Dinosaurs Coexisted with Mammals

Steropodon was one of the many species of early monotremes, an order of mammals that exists to this day in the form of echidnas and platypuses. Monotremes have been around since the Triassic, sharing almost 150 million years with dinosaurs.

People tend to think of dinosaurs as being the predecessors to mammals. However, dinosaurs are actually the predecessors to modern birds, and they coexisted with mammals for some 150 million years. While dinosaurs undoubtedly dominated the land at the time, many small mammals lived alongside them. Mammals only took over, becoming larger and more diverse, when the downfall of the dinosaurs left a large niche for them to fill. While T-rex was roaming around what is now North America, most mammals were no larger than rats or mice. In fact, most of the ancestors of modern mammalian genera already existed when the dinosaurs did.

#7. Dinosaurs Did Not Live Exclusively in a Humid Jungle World

TrinisaurusLevi Bernado

Trinisaurus was one of many dinosaurs that lived in Antarctica. This particular species was discovered in James Ross Island where it died out 66 million years ago.

Climate change is an important part of world’s evolutionary history. When the dinosaurs roamed the Earth, it was a very different world. The atmosphere contained much more oxygen and carbon dioxide, and the climate was much warmer. However, dinosaurs lived for some 150 million years across a wide range of ecosystems. Some indeed lived in humid jungle biomes, while others preferred swamps and some even thrived in much colder climates. For example, the 1,000 lb cryolophosaurus, lived in what is now Antarctica which, while much warmer than it is today, probably still only had a mean annual temperature in the low fifties.

#8. They All Lived Around the Same Time

What is this stegosaurus of which you speak? Contrary to popular belief, this triceratops never met a stegosaurus, the last of which died some 82 million years before it was born.

Not only did dinosaurs coexist with our own mammalian ancestors as long as they existed; they also spanned a very lengthy and diverse epoch. Even some of the best-known dinosaurs lived at completely different times. Stegosaurus, for example, lived in the late Jurassic period around 155 to 150 million years ago, so there’s no chance that one ever met a triceratops, since they didn’t appear on the scene until over 80 million years later! Dinosaurs spanned three major epochs; the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous. In fact, the dinosaurs most prominently featured in Jurassic Park are actually Cretaceous, the period which followed the Jurassic.

#9. Dinosaurs Were All Wiped Out Immediately

The infamous tyrannosaurus rex, one of the biggest apex predators of the Cretaceous world, would have likely been among the first species to die out due to its size and limited ability to adapt to the new conditions hailed in by the Paleogene period.

66 million years ago a truly apocalyptic extinction event spelled the end of around 75% of the plant and animal life on Earth. A bolide meteor impact that formed what is now the Chicxulub Crater in Mexico shook the world to its very core, bringing about rapid and unprecedented changes to the global climate. Dust filled the atmosphere, blocking out much of the sun’s light and causing temperatures to plummet. However, the dinosaurs didn’t disappear immediately, though their fate was sealed with their lack of ability to adapt to the post-apocalyptic world. Bigger dinosaurs would have died out first, but some of the smaller ones may have lasted for two more centuries.

#10. They’re Not Extinct!

What? That’s not a dinosaur! Actually, this rock dove, like all birds, share a common ancestor with all dinosaurs that ever existed. In the form of birds, the dinosaurs of old continue their legacy to this day.

Actually, dinosaurs aren’t extinct at all, since one clade (a branch of organisms) survives to this day and is actually all around us: birds. This fact probably wouldn’t come as any major surprise if dinosaurs had been widely depicted as how they were in reality; often with feathers. Many real dinosaurs, such as the aforementioned velociraptor, actually looked like birds in reality. Birds are exclusively members of a group of animals called theropods, since they are directly related to other theropods, including spinosaurus and tyrannosaurus rex. There’s some food for thought next time you curse a pigeon for defecating on your windscreen!

As is the case with many things based loosely on reality, the world of movies, video games, novels and children’s fairy tales has adopted extensive creative license as such that the reality is almost entirely absence. The above presents just some of the more pervasive myths and misconceptions and dinosaurs, but there are many more. However, the reality was every bit as extreme as the fantasy, and it seems unfortunate that recent movies like Jurassic World didn’t use the opportunity to present something a little closer to what the prehistoric world was really like.

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