Everything you always wanted to know about dinosaurs with contributions from natural history museums around the world
Dinosaurs - meaning “terrible lizards” - are a diverse group of animals that first appeared during the Triassic period, 231.4 million years ago, and were the dominant land animals for 135 million years from the start of the Jurassic period until the end of the Cretaceous - when some sort of ‘extinction event’ led to the extinction of most dinosaur groups.
The Age of Dinosaurs The Age of DinosaursNational Museum of Natural Science
Fossil records show that birds evolved from dinosaurs during the Jurassic Period and, consequently, they are considered to be modern feathered dinosaurs. Some birds survived the extinction event that occurred 66 million years ago, and their descendants continue the dinosaur lineage into the present day - so dinosaurs still live among us!
Archaeopteryx lithographica – the Berlin specimen (2016-09-09) by Hwa Ja GötzMuseum für Naturkunde Berlin
1. Archaeopteryx lithographica: the missing link between dinosaurs and birds
Dinosaurs lived between 230 and 65 million years ago, in a time known as the Mesozoic Era. The earliest known avian dinosaur is 150 million years old: Archaeopteryx had birdlike wings and a long, bony dinosaur tail. One of the most spectacular objects in the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin collection is the original specimen of the ancient bird, Archaeopteryx lithographica, as seen below. This is one of the most famous fossils in the world.
Carnivorous dinosaurs Allosaurus and Elaphrosaurus in the dinosaur hall at MfN by Carola Radke (MfN)Museum für Naturkunde Berlin
2. There were dinosaurs everywhere… even Belgium!
Ever wondered where dinosaurs lived and roamed? Paleontologists now agree that dinosaurs lived across all continents.
Too fragile for another posture (-128000000/-125000000) by Photo: RBINSMuseum of Natural Sciences (Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences)
When they appeared 230 millions years ago, the continents we know now were fused into one supercontinent called Pangea. During the 165 million years that lasted the existence of dinosaurs, the supercontinent was gradually fragmented. These pieces were then spread across the globe by the process of plate tectonics. This process continues to change our planet. So, yeah, dinosaurs were once living in what we call “Belgium” now!
Thirty relatively complete iguanodon skeletons were discovered 322m underground in a coal mine in Bernissart, Belgium at the end of the 19th century. Since the bones were still in their original position, it was possible to present the skeletons in ‘lifelike’ poses. They immediately attracted visitors from all over the world!
Ouranosaurus skeletonMuseum of Natural History of Venice
3. Titanosaur: the biggest dinosaur ever found
Why were dinosaurs so big? No doubt, the staff of AMNH were wondering the same when they had to showcase their new guest: the titanosaur, a gigantic sauropod dinosaur that is so big that it can't fit in the gallery.
Titanosaur overview by Photo: AMNH/D. FinninAmerican Museum of Natural History
Based on the size of its front leg, this titanosaur was 20 feet (6 m) from the ground at its shoulder. And with its neck stretched out at a 45-degree angle, the animal could have peeked in the windows of a five-storey building.
There are various theories about the gigantism of dinosaurs, such as environmental factors like high oxygen levels or an overabundant amount of food, but its still debated in scientific world and remains a kind of mystery...
However, not all dinosaurs were big - they come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes!
Stan le T. rex (-68000000/-65000000) by Photo: RBINSMuseum of Natural Sciences (Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences)
Of course, T-Rex loved meat, no doubt about that. But just as dinosaurs came in different shapes and sizes, they also had very different tastes. Would you believe that the ginormous Giraffatitan, for example, used to feed on plants alone.
Brachiosaurus (Giraffatitan) in the dinosaur hall at Museum für Naturkunde by Antje Dittmann (MfN)Museum für Naturkunde Berlin
5. How big is the brain of a dinosaur?
How smart were dinosaurs? Well, they were not exactly gifted. Two carnivorous dinosaurs were responsible for inspiring the novel and popular movie Jurassic Park: Deinonychus and its close cousin, Velociraptor. Both of these raptor-dinosaurs were smart, speedy, kick-boxers.
DeinonychusHouston Museum of Natural Science
Stegosaurus, however, had a relatively low brain-to-body mass ratio, being roughly the same size of a lime, or no larger than that of a dog, despite being much larger than your pet pooch!
Iguanodon teeth (1825)The Natural History Museum
6. If dinosaurs ruled the Earth, who ruled the seas and skies?
Plesiosaurs were marine reptiles that lived at the same time as the dinosaurs and also became extinct with the dinosaurs around 66 million years ago. They propelled themselves through the water by means of their strong, paddle-like flippers, which were moved up and down like wings.
PlesiosaurusHouston Museum of Natural Science
7. Why did dinosaurs go extinct?
Several times in geological history, meteorite strikes had catastrophic consequences for life on Earth. Well-known examples include an impact approximately 66 million years ago in the Yucatan, which may possibly have caused the extinction of the dinosaurs.
But their extinction remains a mystery: climatic change, diseases, and geologic events could all have played a role. Lately, dinosaur extinction theories have been the subject of much debate and controversy.
What do you think killed the dinosaurs?
Iron meteoriteSenckenberg Nature Museum Frankfurt