The Real Mosasaurus

With the release of the recent Jurassic World movies and their memorable inclusion of the marine reptile Mosasaurus, it wouldn’t be surprising if this species and its mosasaurid relatives are experiencing a real uptick in popularity with the general public right now. However, like all things relating to movie depictions of extinct creatures, what you see on screen and what the fossils tell us are two different things.

Despite the film-based confusion, it’s nice to see mosasaurs getting more attention outside the more hardcore paleo-fandom. We’ve known about these animals for a long time, ever since the first mosasaur material, a set of toothed jaws, was found in the 1760’s in the Netherlands. This was decades before the first dinosaurs were scientifically described. No one at the time knew what to make of these fossils until decades later when …


All About Baby Dinosaurs

Like all animals, dinosaurs had to have babies to ensure the survival of their genes, and all known baby dinosaurs came from eggs. This might seem obvious, but when you stop and think about the trials and challenges of producing and tending to eggs with viable offspring inside, the more interesting and alive extinct dinosaurs become. A lot of the study of dinosaur reproduction is controversial; conjecture based on a limited fossil record and knowledge of related modern animals. But I’ll do my best here to talk as credibly as possible about where baby dinosaurs come from, the world of dinosaur eggs, and the life of a hatchling.

To make a baby dinosaur, obviously you first need parents. Parthenogenesis, the act of reproducing asexually (without the fertilizing of an egg by another individual) is reported in rare cases involving domestic …


The Story of Megalosaurus

All over the world, as long as different people have been looking down at the ground and recognizing shapes in the rock, we were probably seeing dinosaur bones. Whether certain ancient cultures had some idea that they were looking at the remains of long-dead animals, and whether these remains influenced the creation of mythological creatures, remains conjectural. The thing that’s important to remember, however, is there was once a time when no one really knew what dinosaurs were. While different cultures from around the world certainly encountered dinosaur bones, it took us a while to really understand them. Ironically, the first non-avian dinosaur ever described by Western science is nearly as mysterious today as it was hundreds of years ago. Many people don’t know about this still-obscure species, and its story is long and immensely complicated. Let’s take a quick …


Alberta’s Best Dromaeosaur

Everybody loves dromaeosaurs. With their sickle-claws, deadly teeth, and sleek build it’s hard not to find them cool. The very image of these dinosaurs has turned them into movie stars, but they weren’t always so beloved by kids and monster fans worldwide.

Around the time that Jurassic Park turned ‘raptors’ (the popular term for dromaeosaurs, although it’s only properly applied to modern birds of prey) into household names, there was a big dromaeosaur boom in paleontology. A whole assortment of these dinosaurs were being named starting in the early 90’s and continuing onward to this day. While the film might deserve some credit for getting people interested in dromaeosaurs, I suspect this ‘raptor’ boom is largely thanks to a rise in paleontologists who were more interested in studying smaller dinosaurs and the evolution of birds than their predecessors had been. …


Turbulent Taxonomy

In 1842  the Victorian anatomist Sir Richard Owen established the taxon ‘Dinosauria’ to describe a group of distinct fossil reptile species from England. The term ‘dinosaur’ is a combination of two Ancient Greek words which are ‘deinos’ meaning ‘fearfully great’ and ‘sauros’ meaning ‘lizard’. You’ll often see ‘deinos’ translated as ‘terrible’, but it’s meant more as ‘terror-inducing to behold’ more than terrible in a mean, nasty, savage way.

We can’t really blame Owen for this slightly hyperbolic description. The only three dinosaur species known to him at the time were all big and featured prominent teeth, claws, and spikes. It would be over a century before we got used to the idea of small, feathery dinosaurs. The word ‘sauros’, however, has led to no end of confusion, and is just one of many such examples that has misled the general …


The Life Appearance of Dinosaurs, and Common Myths Surrounding It

Let’s face it, we might not ever fully and completely know what every species of non-avian dinosaur looked like when it was alive. Heck, we probably won’t even discover every dinosaur that ever lived. Fossilizing is all about dying in the right place at the right time, and entire species probably came and went without leaving any trace of a geological record. It might seem sad that some dinosaurs lived and died with nothing to remember them by, but is recognition by humans really the only honor that a species gets in the course of time? Well, that’s a topic for another time, so let’s go back to the life appearance of dinosaurs.

We know a surprising amount about what dinosaurs looked like when they were alive considering we mostly just have their bones. But that’s not to say that’s …


When Dinosaurs “Ruled” the Earth

There’s this idea that, from about 233 to 66 million years ago, the planet belonged to the dinosaurs. That from the late Triassic till the end of the Cretaceous the world was exclusively the domain of this lineage of reptiles. Some even think that all the other types of animals that inhabited Earth during this time are also called ‘dinosaurs’ simply due to the fact that they existed during this key time span (see our article on what dinosaurs really are for why this is incorrect).

It’s certainly true that the Dinosauria are one of the most noticeable, beloved, and defining groups of the Mesozoic Era. No one’s going to be surprised that a museum dedicated to dinosaurs (not to mention your humble author writing from there) is going to have something of a bias towards these creatures. However, I …


The Other Tyrants

The fame and glory of Tyrannosaurus rex has been repeatedly hyped endlessly ever since it was first described in 1905. Once T. rex stormed into the public consciousness, no other predatory dinosaur found before or since could measure up to its legacy, though a few came close. It might be news to many people, though, that Tyrannosaurus was not the only tyrannosaurid, a family which contains a menagerie of fascinating tyrant reptiles. These beasts were often the lords of their domain, millions of years before old ‘rex’ appeared on the scene, so let’s take a little survey of them now.

The tyrannosaurids all have a few things in common: they were large, bipedal theropods with fused nasal bones, incisor-like front teeth, and a prominent crest across the back of the skull (Holtz, 2004). The basal tyrannosauroids had three fingers, like …


The Calls of the Past: How Dinosaurs Might Have Communicated

Looking at a dinosaur skeleton in a museum display mount or its isolated bones in a collections drawer, it can sometimes be hard to think of these animals as living creatures. Individual beings who had lives, motives, and interactions with each other. So much of paleontology focuses on fossil animals separate from the world they lived in, and paleontologists are cautious of assuming too much about the activities of creatures they can’t observe in life.

But of course, dinosaurs were once living, breathing animals, and must have communicated not only within their own species, but with other animals, dinosaurian and otherwise, that they shared their ecosystems with. It’s always guesswork to speculate on the behavior and lifestyle of extinct animals, but using what we know about dinosaur biology we can make sure our guesses are fairly grounded in what was, …


In the Footsteps of Giants

It’s a commonly (and incorrectly) held belief that all we’ll ever know about dinosaurs comes from their bones, and that people will never be able to get an understanding of dinosaur behavior and lifestyle. Dinosaurs left many different traces of their existence other than their fossilized skeletons, and one of the coolest has to be their footprints.

Fossilized footprints are known as ichnites to those in the biz, and have been found all over the world. Some of the first known to scientists were found in the northeastern United States in the early 19th century, years before skeletal fossils of dinosaurs had even been recognized and described. Opinions on the maker of these prints ranged from giant birds to biblical monsters, but after good remains of dinosaurs were eventually found in Europe and America, the mystery was solved.

Paleontologists are …



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