The Dinosauria Superorder

May 31, 2012
By SammySparrow BRONZE, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania
SammySparrow BRONZE, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania
3 articles 0 photos 0 comments

Everyone knows from their younger years three facts pertaining to the massive prehistoric thrillers: the T. Rex was the scariest and had tiny arms, triceratops had three horns, and Land Before Time was the best show ever. However, most of the facts people know about dinosaurs are false because movies and books make the dinosaur more hype than fact. Unfortunately, for the dinosaur, he is always misunderstood.
First of all, the name, which in Greek means “terrible lizard”, is deceptive. For one thing, dinosaurs weren't lizards. They were reptiles, certainly, but there are other reptiles — snakes, turtles, and crocodiles — that aren't lizards. In fact, lizards crawl on their lowly bellies because their legs grow out from the side of their bodies. No self-respecting dinosaur ever did that. These upstanding beasts grew legs under their bodies, got their bellies off the ground, and moved out. But weren't they at least terrible? Taken as a whole, no. Logical deduction tells us that for every carnivorous tyrannosaur, there had to be hundreds or thousands of placid herbivores. Otherwise, T. Rex would have soon run out of prey. We don’t call the present ruling order "terrible mammals" just because there are a few wolves among us.
The common conception we have of dinosaurs as huge, slow, stupid beasts is wrong as well. For one thing, they weren't all huge. Even full-grown dinosaurs came in varieties as small as Chihuahuas and plenty of them were people-sized. True some were the largest land animals ever, but even the largest dinosaurs never came close to our fellow mammal, the blue whale. These giants weren't slow either. The largest mammals — elephants, hippos, and rhinos — can run faster than people can. There's no reason to think that even the behemoth Giganotosaurus couldn't move right along when he wanted to. Additionally, there's plenty of evidence that many of the carnivores were outright roadrunners like the Ornithomimosauria, which could run up to 25 miles an hour. Unfortunately, the same misconception applies to intelligence. Certainly, none were geniuses ? probably none reached the level of modern primates. But we do know that some were speedy pack hunters. Some were even like highly intelligent wolves, preying on organized herds of much larger animals
Thankfully, some misconceptions about dinosaurs have already faded out.. Little kids no longer envision a hairy caveman being chased by an allosaurus or riding a tamed brontosaurus. They know that the last dinosaurs were gone eons before the first humans evolved. However, paleontologists are still working out some qualities of dinosaurs. They are discovering, for example, that some — maybe even most — dinosaurs had societies: they lived in families, herds, or packs. These revelations mean that they had leaders, followers, rules of conduct, and specific social duties to perform. They weren't just thoughtless individuals looking out only for themselves. Even their most reptilian quality, cold-bloodedness, is being challenged. Since many dinosaurs exhibited mammalian behavior, have bones that grew similarly to those of mammals, and are related to many modern birds, scientists have come to think that some dinosaurs might have been warm-blooded.
No matter what else is challenged though, we can surely rest comfortably in one piece of knowledge about dinosaurs: they are extinct. That certainly makes us feel superior, doesn't it? Think again. Dinosaurs were the dominant beasts on earth — on land, in the sea, and in the air — for 170 million years. We humans, who like to think that we now rule the earth, have only been around for two million years or so. If you look at the numbers, the human race is more of a naive child and the dinosaurs, an experienced adult. Furthermore, they didn't die out because our “superior” (mammalian) kind took over. Our ancestors lived all throughout the dinosaur era, but as tiny, mouse-like creatures, eating worms and sucking eggs, unnoticed in the niches of the great dinosaur ecology. But dinosaurs did become extinct, right? Not if by "extinct" you mean "left no surviving descendants." It has become well established in recent years that modern birds are direct descendants of dinosaurs. Modern birds and theropod dinosaurs are all part of the same genus (Archaeopteryx). The research these days just focuses on which branch of the dinosaur family tree birds take their heritage. But all the rest of the dinosaurs certainly did become extinct, and we haven't figured out exactly why yet. Perhaps it was some disastrous combination of climate change and an asteroid crash or two. One thing we can be certain of, though, is that dinosaurs did not purposely or carelessly destroy their own world. So far humans are the only animals that have ever provided themselves with the ability to do that.
So not all dinosaurs were big, stupid, slow brutes. Some were small, fast, and probably warm-blooded. They were entirely successful for long ages in their world. Whatever wiped them out wasn't their own doing, because there was nothing to take their place in the ecosystem for millions of years, until mammals, freed from the domination of the great reptiles, diversified and claimed the world. In fact, some dinosaurs are still here, raising their warm-blooded, feathered, but still scaly-legged young, generation after generation.

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