“Thanks” to Barney, the purple dinosaur from the children’s TV show, and the likes of dino-shaped chicken nuggets and cookie cutters, a generation of children has some very wrong ideas about Tyrannosaurus Rex. A Cornell University paleontologist and other researchers have found that, when asked to draw “T-Rex,” most college students produce an upright creature who drags its tail and has tiny arms.
T-Rex actually moved horizontally and had a big tail that was essential for its hunting ability and speed. But the “imprinting of bad dinosaur anatomy at the earliest ages from unscientific sources” has meant that about two-thirds of the college students surveyed had ideas about dinosaurs that were “stalled in the early 1900s.”
It’s a commentary about the power of popular culture over science. But it’s also all the more reason to make sure that today’s children have a sound and solid science curriculum. Yes, we all know that Barney is really some guy wearing a purple costume, but real dinosaurs are far more fascinating than any creature we could imagine.
1. A Comet Killed Dinosaurs
65 million years ago, a space rock collided with Earth, leaving behind the 180-kilometer Chicxulub crater in Mexico and killing off some 70 percent of all species in fires, earthquakes and tsunamis. So much dust and gas was thrown up that global temperatures must have plummeted for years.
Scientists from Dartmouth College suggest that, rather than (as previously and widely thought) a large and slow-moving asteroid making contact with earth, it was a smaller space rock, a speeding comet, as based on measurements of the amounts of the extraterrestrial element osmium deposited by the object.
One caveat noted by the BBC: while there are most likely far more comets (made of dust, rock and ice) than near-earth asteroids, the comets spend the vast majority of their lifetime far from the sun and moon. So the identity of the gargantuan space rock remains up for debate.
2. We’re Mistaken About Their True Colors
To reconstruct the colors of feathered dinosaurs, scientists have studied melanosomes, pigmented structures in the fossilized plumes of feathered dinosaurs. The small dinosaur Anchiomis huxleyi is thought to have had a black and gray body and a red crest while the giant penguin Inkayacu paracasensis was perhaps gray and red.
Researchers from the University of Bristol are saying that these reconstructions may not be accurate due to changes the dinosaurs’ feathers underwent when they were fossilized. During fossilization, the feathers would have been subjected to intense heat and pressure that, based on tests on modern birds’ feathers, would have altered the structure of the melanosomes.
So the grays and blacks and reds could possibly be no more accurate than purple and green.
3. Some Male Dinosaurs Acted Like Peacocks
Not only did some dinosaurs have feathers, but they used them to attract mates, as modern male turkeys and peacocks do. The final vertebrae in the tip of the tail of oviraptors, a group of dinosaurs, were fused together into a blade-like structure called a pygostyle that only modern birds have, says University of Alberta paleontologist Scott Persons.
The vertebrae at the tip of ovirators’ tails were both many and short in size, giving them a great deal of flexibility and, as Persons says, showing that “by the Late Cretaceous [100.5 to 66 million years ago] dinosaurs were doing everything with feathers that modern birds do now.” The feathers also provided insulation for dinosaurs against cooler temperatures.
4. More Than a Few Small Dinosaurs Were Carnivores
Examination of the teeth of 23 species of small two-legged dinosaurs shows that many more were meat-eaters than previously believed. These dinosaurs lived in western Canada and the U.S. 85 to 65 million years ago and belonged to the families Velociraptor and Troodon. The latter, a small and bird-like species, are said to be “possibly the brainiest dinosaur.”
5. Small Crocodiles Ate Small Dinosaurs
Tiny bits of dinosaur bones from baby dinosaurs reveals that crocodyliform, a now extinct forms of crocodiles, fed on them. One bone fragment from the dinosaurs (who were 1-2 meters in length) found in the Grand Staircase Escalante-National Monument in southern Utah is a femur with a crocodyliform’s tooth embedded in it, a rare example of a fossil that is “action-related.”
The small plant-eating baby dinosaurs (who were also prey for large crocodyliforms) are themselves a new species that has yet to be named.
Related Care2 Coverage
Photo by 2sirius