A few myths and misunderstandings will emerge if you spend enough time researching dinosaurs and participating in enough outreach and awareness events. Dinosaur misconceptions are commonly fuelled by erroneous (albeit amusing) cinematic depictions.
Despite the fact that films like Jurassic Park and documentaries like Planet Dinosaur have helped bring the public’s perception of dinosaurs into the twenty-first century, many individuals are decades behind the research.
In this article, I’ll look at some of the most common myths and whether or not they’re true.
Where Do These Dinosaur Myths Come From?
To be fair, I don’t expect most people to be too interested in dinosaurs, but practically everyone I meet does seem to have a passing interest in them and knows a little about them. Even professional dinosaur researchers find it difficult to keep up with every new piece of research and discovery.
Anyone who has visited a decent natural history museum, read any recent media coverage of dinosaurs, or watched any dinosaur documentaries should have been disabused of some of these outdated ideas – they’ve been outdated since the 1920s.
Not everything you’ve learned about dinosaurs is correct. Extinct reptiles that ruled our globe millions of years ago have captivated our minds for a long time. For the most part, our conceptions of dinosaurs have altered as more is learned about them.
On the other hand, some stories have survived because of images that have made particular dinosaurs household names. T-Rex and Velociraptor, we’re talking about you. Experts from the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History demonstrate some of the most popular misconceptions about the prehistoric reptiles that once ruled the Earth.
Due to a lack of evidence, or material that is unclear or even conflicting, paleontologists still have a lot of discussion concerning several elements of dinosaurs’ life. There is, however, a great deal we can be confident about, based on several lines of evidence and well-designed investigations.
Some of the following ideas were dismissed by the scientific community nearly as soon as they were proposed. Yet, they have persisted in the popular mind, constantly reproduced by terrible stereotypes, cheap knock-off publications, and media attention. We’ll look at what’s true and what’s fiction in this piece.
Myths About Dinosaur Extinction
Myth: All Forms of Dinosaurs are Extinct
Many of us are aware of the enormous mass extinction of life that happened 66 million years ago at the end of the Cretaceous epoch. The dinosaurs were wiped off by this cataclysm, but not all of them. This is likely the most common misunderstanding regarding dinosaurs.
The name dinosaur refers to a group of creatures that includes ornithischians, such as armored dinosaurs like Ankylosaurs and Triceratops, as well as saurischian dinosaurs like Brachiosaurus and theropods like Tyrannosaurus Rex and Giganotosaurus.
According to paleontologists and evolutionary biologists, birds are classified as Maniraptorans, which are theropods. Dinosaurs are not extinct in the sense that birds are a form of dinosaurs. Non-avian dinosaurs died out at the end of the Cretaceous period, while avian dinosaurs live on in the shape of birds today.
Bats are a good comparison. Bats are a strange kind of animal with wings and the capacity to fly. Birds, a strange kind of dinosaur, performed the same thing. Birds have more species (over 10,000) than any other group of land-dwelling animals with backbones today.
Myth: Mammals Evolved Only After Dinosaurs Became Extinct
The progenitors of mammals, known as synapsids, appeared before the dinosaurs. Mammals descended from the cynodont, a scaly rat-like reptile that existed more than 200 million years ago. By around 165 million years ago, mammals had evolved into marsupial and placental lines of development during the Jurassic era, when dinosaurs were at their peak.
There was never a mammal larger than a badger that lived with the dinosaurs (that we know of), but mammals began to diversify and spread over the planet nearly as soon as the non-bird dinosaurs became extinct, and they grew to much larger proportions. For more than 150 million years, tiny mammals survived in the shadow of dinosaurs, filling ecological niches as small, nocturnal creatures weighing as little as 2 grams.
Mammals were tiny until 65 million years ago, when the dinosaurs died out, leaving a plethora of niches for bigger mammals to occupy. After this period, the majority of the mammals we know today emerged.
Myth: Dinosaurs Perished as a Result of Mammals Eating Their Eggs
For 150 million years, dinosaurs and mammals coexisted. Although dinosaur nests were obviously susceptible, smaller dinosaurs were most likely the most destructive predators. The eggs of huge dinosaurs were presumably too big for most animals at the time.
Myth: The Dinosaurs Were Wiped Off by a Single Asteroid Hit
A massive meteorite smashing onto the planet is often shown in popular pictures of the (non-avian) dinosaurs’ last days. A massive (mostly buried) crater and other evidence indicating a big meteorite impact at the end of the Cretaceous are widely acknowledged. A layer of iridium-rich rock covers what is now Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, marking the impact 65 million years ago of a 10-kilometer asteroid in a shallow sea.
Chicxulub, a 180-kilometer-wide crater, was created by this event. There is no conclusive evidence that any non-avian dinosaurs survived the collision. Even yet, we don’t know exactly how the dinosaurs died.
Only the dinosaurs in the crater’s immediate area might have died due to the collision. But it also left a trail of devastation in the form of massive tsunamis, corrosive rain that may have been as caustic as battery acid, and dust clouds that darkened and chilled the world for months, if not decades.
Another idea claims that dinosaurs were already diminishing before the collision due to rising sea levels and volcanic eruptions. Massive Late Cretaceous volcanic eruptions turned the Indian subcontinent into a hellish landscape with massive cracks spewing lava, lava lakes hundreds of kilometers wide, and lava flows hundreds of kilometers long.
Massive amounts of carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide were released during these eruptions, altering the makeup of the atmosphere and oceans and placing ecosystems under duress. The dinosaurs were most likely killed out by a combination of the following factors. The meteorite collision was the straw that broke the camel’s back for many scientists.
Myth: Dinosaurs Were Evolutionarily Unsuccessful
I despise the idea that dinosaurs were evolutionary failures, that they were dull-witted, slow-moving, unattractive creatures doomed to extinction. They were a great power that governed for more than 150 million years.
To put that in context, our own species, Homo sapiens, has only been around for around 200,000 years, and our earliest predecessors appeared only 7 million years ago. Remember, if you listen out a window, you could hear the call of a contemporary avian dinosaur right in your own backyard.
Dinosaurs have been around for almost 150 million years; thus, they can’t be labeled failures. Dinosaurs outcompeted other species of the time but ultimately lost the struggle to survive the asteroid hit and its aftereffects. Dinosaur extinction was long attributed to a failure on the part of the dinosaurs, an inability to adapt to changing environmental conditions.
This simply isn’t the case. There is no conclusive evidence that dinosaurs would not have been able to adapt to the evolutionary changes necessary to exist for longer if the asteroid had not struck.
Myth: We’ve Discovered Fossils From Nearly Every Dinosaur Species
More than 700 species of prehistoric dinosaurs have already been uncovered by researchers, although this is likely a drop in the bucket compared to the 10,000 species of present avian dinosaurs or birds.
Fossils are being unearthed at a breakneck speed, with a new dinosaur species uncovered every week on average. This is partially due to the fact that paleontologists are being taught all around the world and are discovering fossils in previously unexplored places. Places like China, Brazil, and Argentina, in particular.
These massive nations are rapidly growing, opening out to the rest of the globe and teaching their own scientists in new colleges and museums. So we can be sure that there will be more discoveries – a lot more!
Myths About Dinosaur Anatomy
Myth: Dinosaurs Were Sluggish, Slow Animals
Dinosaurs were considered to have lost the evolutionary race to birds and mammals because they were slow and lethargic, according to early paleontologists. Modern research has found no evidence that they were slackers who dragged their tails behind them. The majority of dinosaurs were probably as mobile as today’s huge animals.
Meat-eating dinosaurs, like lions, were energetic predators that laid down and slept after eating their fill. In 2000, researchers discovered an extremely well-preserved hadrosaur fossil in a South Dakota riverbank, which revealed that dinosaurs had strong hearts similar to those of birds or mammals rather than current reptiles. The petrified, four-chambered heart, according to researchers, indicates an active, bird-like metabolism.
Myth: The Stegosaurus Had More Than One Brain
Please take notice of this. They just did not. Like many vertebrates, including humans, they did have an expanded nerve cluster at the base of the spine. Observe how widespread this misconception is among dinosaurs as a whole, yet poor old Steggy is frequently singled out, and how difficult it is to disprove.
Myth: Dinosaurs Were Stupid
Although I doubt many were intelligent, most people seem to think of dinosaurs as dumb as a sack of hammers. This, I believe, is connected to the notion that dinosaurs were evolutionary failures and that being dumb was one of them.
Even with living creatures, it’s difficult to define intelligence, but there’s evidence for social behaviors and group living, parental care, and the like, and at least some dinosaurs had rather large brains for their body size. Few may have been intellectual giants, but not all of them could have been complete morons, and many were likely far brighter than they were given credit for.
Myth: Every Big Reptile Was a Dinosaur
Pterosaurs, which included pterodactyls, and marine reptiles such as plesiosaurs and ichthyosaurs were not dinosaurs, although living in the same time period and suffered the same fate during the 65 million-year-old mass extinction. They are frequently confused with dinosaurs, despite the fact that they belong to other groups. There were some flying dinosaurs, namely birds.
Myth: All Dinosaurs Were Really Fast
The ancient concept of super-slow, lumbering dinosaurs is still alive and well. They were not, however, enormous lizards gasping from footstep to footstep but rather dynamic and quick creatures.
Those who took Jurassic Park too literally and now believe Velociraptor can reach 60 miles per hour and Tyrannosaurus can reach 30 miles per hour or more, while recent assessments show these are enormous exaggerations are a fascinating counterpoint to this. Some dinosaurs were swift, such as the raptors, while others were sluggish, such as the large, long-necked dinosaurs.
Based on the impact that running would have exerted on Tyrannosaurus’ large foot bones, new research concluded that it didn’t go much faster than jogging humans. They may have been slow as far as movement goes but fast due to their size and the distance they could cover compared to smaller species.
Myth: The Tyrannosaurus Rex Stood Upright On Two Feet
Many T-Rex skeleton replicas were made with their tails on the ground in an upright position, although experts have known since the 1960s that they must have held their bodies horizontally, like a big teeter-totter. The message does not appear to be reaching through to the general populace. When a Cornell paleontologist asked pupils to sketch a Tyrannosaurus, the majority of them portrayed it standing up. I believe it takes a long time for popular culture to catch up to contemporary scientific thought. Even when newer photos are released, the old ones remain and propagate alongside the newest ones.
Myth: Dinosaurs Were All Giants
The fact that dinosaurs were large accounts for a lot of their widespread appeal. Plant-eating dinosaurs like Argentinosaurus (about 30 meters long and 50 tons in weight) and predators like Spinosaurus are both massive (up to 18m long and 20 tonnes in weight). Of course, the skeletons of the largest dinosaurs were the first to attract the attention of fossil hunters.
Paleontologists are discovering dinosaurs of various sizes and forms now that they know what they’re searching for. Sauropods with long necks, such as the Dreadnoughtus Schrani, may grow to be as large as passenger jets. However, many dinosaurs were little. Some were as little as birds.
Some dinosaurs were genuinely massive, and many, if not all, dinosaurs were large in comparison to current terrestrial mammals when they were adults. There were, however, a variety of creatures the size of cattle, lambs, dogs, cats, and chickens. Aside from birds, the smallest dinosaurs we know of weighed around 200 grams as adults.
Some ornithischians, like the dinosaurs, including Triceratops and Stegosaurus, were just a meter tall – for example, the Siberian plant-eating Kulindadromeus. Theropods, the dinosaur group that includes T-Rex and modern birds, shrank in size throughout time, with many dinosaurs being smaller than a slice of bread and weighing less than a bag of flour.
Myth: Dinosaurs Were All Cold-Blooded
Many scientists thought dinosaurs were cold-blooded like their living reptile relatives until recently. However, several lines of evidence now imply that many dinosaurs were truly warm-blooded.
Details on the chemistry of dinosaur eggshells have been discovered, indicating that at least some dinosaur eggs were produced at temperatures greater than the surrounding environment. The preservation of downy feathers on the bodies of dinosaurs like Sinosauropteryx is another piece of evidence.
Only species with high metabolisms and well-regulated body temperatures, such as birds and mammals, can grow rapidly, as scientists can see from the tiny structure of dinosaur bones. It explains why dinosaurs evolved feathers for insulation, but it’s still unclear if their body temperatures functioned similarly to ours.
Warm-bloodedness can be defined in a variety of ways. Dinosaurs’ metabolisms are unlikely to have been identical to that of birds or mammals. Because theropod dinosaurs shrank with time, they would have needed less energy to stay warm.
Because of the heat created by the fermentation of ingested plant matter and the stability of their internal temperatures due to their enormous mass, even the huge herbivorous dinosaurs may have possessed a kind of warm-bloodedness known as gigantothermy.
Warm-blooded animals have a more expensive lifestyle than cold-blooded animals because they require more energy and food, but it allows them to be active at night and in the winter when there are no heat sources available.
Myths About Dinosaur Hunting and Eating Habits
Myth: Tyrannosaurus Hunted Stegosaurus
This is completely incorrect. In fact, there is more time between these two dinosaur species than there is between T-Rex and humanity now. Tyrannosaurus evolved around 67 million years ago, during the Cretaceous period, just a few million years before the mass extinction event. Stegosaurus lived about 150 million years ago during the late Jurassic period, and Tyrannosaurus lived about 150 million years ago during the late Jurassic period.
Myth: Tyrannosaurus’ Were Dedicated Scavengers
Paleontologists were never big fans of this theory, and it was debunked by a number of investigations and reviews. Nonetheless, because of the attention it received when it was initially proposed, it appears often and is adhered to by some.
Myth: T-Rexes Were Predatory Dinosaurs
For decades, the media has been obsessed with the T-size, Rex’s jaws, and fury, with iconic portrayals depicting a massive, flesh-tearing predator. Recent research, however, suggests differently. Running after prey would generate high pressures on the skeleton, enough to destroy T-bones, Rex’s, according to biomechanical studies and computer modeling of how the skeleton joined.
This is in contrast to prior models that predicted T-Rex to have higher running speeds, implying that T-Rex was confined to walking rates. As a result, issues concerning T-capacity Rex’s to grab prey are raised, while additional evidence suggests T-Rex was a scavenger, especially as an adult.
In the 1990s, there was a widespread belief that the T-Rex wasn’t as tough as we’d long assumed and that it was more of a huge scavenger, traveling around and consuming corpses left by other predators. That notion was incorrect: evolution does not create a bus-sized animal with a bathtub-sized head and 50-plus railroad spike teeth capable of crushing bone only to go about picking up dead corpses.
Tyrannosaurus would presumably accept a free meal if it came upon a fresh carcass, but it was more than capable of murdering a live prey animal. Researchers discovered Triceratops bones with healed Tyrannosaurus bite scars, indicating that the two species interacted and that Triceratops occasionally survived.
Myths About Dinosaur Habitats
Myth: Sauropods Only Lived in Water and Swamps
This is another theory that barely lasted a few years in scientific circles but is still mentioned in books and articles today. The huge, long-necked sauropods were supposed to be too large to exist on land; thus, they must have moved about half immersed in water, despite apparent issues such as the fact that they would float and their lungs would burst if submerged that far. They walked on land, as evidenced by fossilized footprints.
Myth: All Dinosaur Types Lived in Warm Climates and Jungles
The Mesozoic Era, during which the dinosaurs lived, was, on average, warmer than the contemporary globe. Dinosaurs, on the other hand, inhabited a wide range of habitats for tens of millions of years, including deserts, plains, coasts, forests, jungles, and even high polar settings. It wasn’t simply sweltering, fetid jungles and humid rainforests.
Myth: Humans Did Live Among Dinosaurs
Only in novels, movies, and cartoons do dinosaurs and humans cohabit. Other than birds, the last dinosaurs went out approximately 65 million years ago, whereas our oldest human predecessors’ remains are just about 6 million years old. Many portrayals of prehistoric Earth show a plethora of prehistoric monsters and early people coexisting with hunter-gatherer lifestyles.
While our forefathers did live alongside certain species that are strange or bizarre by today’s standards, such as the woolly mammoth, saber-tooth cat, gigantic ground sloth, and huge carnivorous terror birds, they survived long after non-avian dinosaurs died out 66 million years ago. Our species, Homo, first appeared slightly over two million years ago, and anatomically modern humans, Homo sapiens, and Neanderthals appeared between 300,000 and 200,000 years ago.
If geological time were a 24-hour clock, dinosaurs would have died out at 10.45 p.m., humans would have split from other primates around 11.58 p.m., and modern humans would not have appeared until 15 seconds before midnight.
Myth: Dinosaurs Were Able to Survive in the Sea, on Land, and in the Air
Various reptile families populated the Earth during the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous periods of Earth’s history, including huge pterosaurs and fearsome marine reptiles like ichthyosaurs plesiosaurs, and mosasaurs. Dinosaurs include these fossils, as well as other prehistoric species like the carnivorous Dimetrodon, which has a massive bone sail on its back.
However, these fossils belong to other groupings and are not dinosaurs. Pterosaurs and dinosaurs share a Triassic progenitor, with lineages leading to marine reptiles and dinosaurs splitting between the late Permian and early Triassic periods, with Dimetrodon existing more than 40 million years before dinosaurs. Most importantly, none of these fossils had the dinosaur-specific configuration of hip bones.
Myths About Dinosaur Appearance
Myth: Dinosaurs Were All Scaly Lizards
Certainly not. Dinosaurs had scaly skin, as evidenced by well-preserved impressions from throughout the world, but paleontologists have discovered that many dinosaurs also possessed feathers. Thousands of feather-covered dinosaur fossils have been discovered in China during the previous two decades.
In reality, fossils suggest that Yutyrannus, a T-Rex relative, was coated in downy fluff (which didn’t make it any less terrifying to its prey). Feathers would have helped dinosaurs control their body temperature, and smaller species like Velociraptors would have benefited greatly from them.
Even the largest plant-eaters, like elephants’ tufts of hair, may have had a little fuzz. The stunning discovery of feathers preserved from over 50 dinosaur species from China’s famed Early Cretaceous Jehol fossil beds, including smaller, bird-like dinosaurs including Microraptor and giant relatives of T-Rex like the Yutyrannus, have shifted the paradigm.
In fact, feathers have been found in sedimentary rocks and amber from dinosaurs all throughout the planet. While many of these feathered dinosaurs were unable to fly, a few were able to glide, revealing fascinating visions of ancient ecosystems where birds and dinosaurs coexisted, living and hunting on the wing.
According to our findings, these feathered dinosaurs possessed dandruff and shed their skin in microscopic flakes, exactly like current birds and mammals.
Myth: All Dinosaurs Were a Grayish-Green Color
Dinosaurs were extremely colorful. Paleontologists have discovered very well-preserved fossilized feathers containing structures called melanosomes, which allow them to determine what colors they were. These housed pigments and the various forms and groupings indicated the various colors.
Sinosauropteryx, a tiny carnivorous dinosaur found in northern China, is believed to have a striped brown tail and a raccoon-like bandit mask. Popular dinosaur portrayals frequently use vibrant colors and patterns that are easy
to dismiss as artistic license. But, we now have scientific proof of several dinosaurs’ hues because of retained granules of the pigment melanin – melanosomes – in the feathers of various dinosaurs and ancient birds.
Spherical melanosomes are related to ginger colors in birds today, sausage-shaped melanosomes with black and dark brown hues, and flattened or cigar-shaped melanosomes with iridescent, metallic sheen feathers. As a result, different-shaped melanosomes retained in dinosaur feathers have been utilized to deduce dinosaur plumage hue.
Myth: All Dinosaurs’ Tails Trailed on the Ground
Dinosaurs with their tails dragged are still seen today, clearly originating from a time when dinosaurs were thought to be particularly reptilian and lizard-like. The architecture of the tail bones and muscles alone indicates that this is incorrect, but the real killer should be the near-endless collections of dinosaur footprints that aren’t accompanied by dragging tail impressions.
There is a slew of other tiny things about dinosaurs that irritate me, but these are the main ones. Of course, you are free to be unconcerned about this and find my annoyance inexplicable.
However, part of a dinosaur enthusiast’s job is to communicate new research (or at least correct information) to those who are interested, and given the media’s fascination with dinosaurs, museum attendances, and the seemingly endless stream of documentaries and books available, it’s clear that a large number of people are interested and engaged.
As a result, it’s remarkable that concepts that scientists debunked a century ago are still circulating and actively perpetuated. It’s a disservice to real science and research, as well as to people who want to learn. Let me know what your thoughts are and if there are any more myths that you would like checked out by our team by commenting below.