How much do you know about dinosaurs? If you’re still relying on what you learned in grade school -- and saw in Hollywood classics like "Jurassic Park" -- you've got dinosaurs all wrong.
Yes, the scientific understanding of dinosaurs -- and dinosaur behavior -- has changed drastically in recent years.
"'Jurassic Park' fossilized an image of scaly dinosaurs in our imagination," Brian Switek, dinosaur expert and author of the book My Beloved Brontosaurus, told The Huffington Post in an email. "Despite scores of fluffy and fuzzy dinosaur fossils, many people still prefer the scabrous, reptilian versions they grew up with. Nostalgia's great, but paleontology has kept altering our perceptions of what dinosaurs were like in the 20 years since Spielberg's classic film."
And, of course, paleontologists may have just (literally) scratched the surface when it comes to finding all there is to know about dinosaurs.
For instance, "one of the common misconceptions I hear is that dinosaur diversity was dwindling toward the end of the Cretaceous [period]," paleontologist Peter Larson, president of the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research in South Dakota, told The Huffington Post in an email. "Interestingly enough, that is where we need more collecting and more research."
Switek and Larson helped me make sense of five new scientific findings that just may change the way you think about dinosaurs -- check out the video above and/or read the transcript below. Also, leave your thoughts about our changing understanding of dinosaurs in the comments. Talk nerdy to me!
Hey everyone. Jacqueline Howard here. Just in case you didn’t recognize it, that's a dinosaur. At least that’s how people used to think dinosaurs looked and behaved. Now we know better. We know that dinosaurs aren't the dumb, slow-moving, scaly creatures you may have learned about in grade school. I’ll share with you five big myths about dinos—and the latest scientific thinking on these amazing creatures. But first, let’s go back in time…
Dinosaurs died out around 65 million years ago, wiped out by a huge comet or asteroid. But we can look at the fossil evidence they left behind to understand what these prehistoric beasts were really like.
In ancient times, fossilized dinosaur bones were thought to have belonged to monsters, or giants, or even dragons. In the 1800s, scientists realized that these teeth and bones were unlike those of any living animal -- so they must have been the remains of long-extinct creatures. And so, British paleontologist Sir Richard Owen coined the word “dinosaur” to describe these prehistoric creatures. But the fossil record can be hard to interpret, which brings me back to those myths.
5. “Dinosaurs were dumb.”
In the 1970s, a system was developed to estimate dinosaur intelligence based on the dinosaur’s brain weight relative to the brain weight of another living animal. It turns out that, based on that system, some dinosaurs (like the Velociraptor) were pretty darn smart.
4. “Brontosaurus was the biggest dinosaur of all.”
Like me, you may have been taught that one of the biggest dinosaurs was the enormous plant-eater called Brontosaurus. But there’s one problem, that guy never existed. Brontosaurus was invented when 19th century paleontologist O.C. Marsh misidentified an Apatosaurus skeleton as belonging to a new species. Even though the mistake was discovered in 1903, it wasn’t until the 1970s when museums got around to fixing their skeleton displays. Still, the long-necked dinosaurs were the biggest of them all.
3. “Dinosaurs were covered in scales.”
You may have heard that some dinosaurs sported feathers. Fossil evidence now suggests that most or even all did. Researchers recently found fossils belonging to a small, two-legged dinosaur with scales and feather-like structures, dating back around 160 million years. This leads scientists to think that dinosaurs’ plumes may have evolved much earlier in dinosaur history than previously thought.
2. “Dinosaurs were cold blooded.”
At first scientists thought maybe dinosaurs were cold-blooded like reptiles. Then some researchers said that dinosaurs may have been warm-blooded. But based on dinosaurs’ growth rate, size, and metabolism, some scientists now pose that dinosaurs were mesotherms, which means they couldn’t control their body temperature as us mammals do, but they weren’t so dependent on their environments as cold-blooded reptiles are. They were somewhere in between.
1. “Dinosaurs were slow movers.”
Dinosaurs may have been way speedier than you probably thought. Computer simulations suggest that this tiny guy was the fastest dinosaur of all, with a running speed of around 40 mph. Meanwhile, a six-ton T. rex could reach a top speed of around 18 mph. That’s one guy I’m glad I’ll never have to outrun.
What other questions do you have about dinosaurs? Let me know in the comments. Come on, talk nerdy to me.
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