The Real Allosaurus

Try to imagine, if you can, a world before Tyrannosaurus was the definitive carnivorous dinosaur. There was actually a time when that was indeed the case. Dinosaurs were first defined as a group in 1842, and Tyrannosaurus wasn’t described until 1905. That’s over sixty years of scientists and the public being aware of dinosaurs, but unaware that the tyrant king of reptiles lay buried in late Cretaceous rocks in western North America.

The first dinosaur that people ever thought of as the defining ‘big nasty carnivore’ was Megalosaurus, but remains of this dinosaur have always been fragmentary, and it languished for years as a wastebasket taxon. Between this first-known fossil theropod and the discovery of T. rex, another dinosaur held the title of the Mesozoic’s top terrestrial villain, and that was Allosaurus.

Allosaurus is a fairly well-known dinosaur, …


The Weird Dinosaurs Saga: Carnotaurus

Imagine the world roughly 70 million years ago, during the late Cretaceous period. Global temperatures overall are quite warm, and the continents have yet to take the configuration we know them in today. Unbeknownst to them, the non-avian dinosaurs only have about four million years left. An endless expanse of time to us humans, but a drop in the greater cosmic bucket.

During this little slice of time, if you were walking around Alberta, Canada, between the Rocky Mountains and the Western Interior Seaway, you’d spot all sorts of dinosaurs that now fill the halls of North American museums. Vast herds of the flat-horned Pachyrhinosaurus or shovel-beaked Edmontosaurus, the feathered carnivore Atrociraptor, crested hadrosaurs like Hypacrosaurus or Saurolophus, the birdlike Epichirostenotes and Dromiceiomimus, and the horned giant Eotriceratops. The large carnivore niche was solely dominated …


The Real Pachycephalosaurus

Everyone knows Pachycephalosaurus, that bipedal dome-head that ran around head-butting other dinosaurs all day long, but few people ever stop and give it much thought beyond that. The history and biology of Pachycephalosaurus and its relatives is complex, and for a family of dinosaurs that’s been a pop culture staple for so long we still don’t know a whole lot about the pachycephalosaur family.

This is an odd group of dinosaurs, with Pachycephalosaurus being the largest so far yet perhaps not the strangest. Like their basal ornithischian ancestors, pachycephalosaurs were bipedal, never attainting giant quadruped morphs like all other bird-hipped dinosaur lineages eventually did. There’s precious little post-cranial material from these already rare dinosaurs known, so for many species we can only infer what they looked like from the neck down by studying a few relatively complete specimens. The …


A Brief History of Mammals Part 1: The Early Synapsids

To many people, mammals seem like very modern animals. Palaeontologists of the mid-20th Century often framed the story of life on Earth into overly-simplified chapters, with the earlier Paleozoic and Mesozoic eras being the ‘Age of Fish’ and ‘Age of Reptiles’ respectively, and the current Cenozoic being the ‘Age of Mammals’. This might make for easy mental categorization, but it’s also misleading. Mammals themselves date back to the time of the dinosaurs, and their earlier cousins, the non-mammalian synapsids, go back earlier.

While the evolution of mammals isn’t as glamorous in the eyes of the public as dinosaurs, palaeontologists have always been highly interested in fossil mammals and their relatives. When the study of dinosaurs became less popular during the first half of the 20th Century, mammal palaeontology was treated with much weight and seriousness. Today, it’s still a very …


The Weird Dinosaurs Saga: Deinocheirus

Dinosaurs have become so popular that it’s easy to forget just how weird they are as animals. Many were huge, and depending on the family some had long necks, plates, spikes, horns, frills, domed heads, and other such things. Some were the size of elephants but with heads the size of a horse’s. That isn’t to say that, in the big picture, dinosaurs are any less wacky than many animals around today. Whales, pangolins, turtles, and most birds are all truly bizarre creatures, but (likely aside from pangolins) we’re pretty used to them. Mesozoic dinosaurs are unfamiliar, and so by our standards they’re pretty weird, but some are less familiar than others. One case I’d like to highlight in this article is the ‘terrible hand’ of Mongolia, Deinocheirus.

In 1965, Polish palaeontologist Zofia Kielan-Jaworowska discovered a gigantic pair of …


How Many Kinds of Dinosaurs Were There?

It seems like, back in the good old pre-Dinosaur Renaissance days, the number of dinosaur species known to science was a pretty self-contained thing. You had your Tyrannosaurus, your Triceratops, your Stegosaurus, Brontosaurus, ‘Monoclonius’, and all the other classics. It was kind of like a baseball team of fossil animals. This was never really true, of course, because despite the fact that only a dozen or so animals ever seemed to make it into the popular science books of yesterday, there was hundreds of more obscure dinosaurs that never got much time in the limelight being named at the same time as the star species.

Nowadays, with paleontology being more popular than ever and with people getting better and better at it all the time, new dinosaur species are being named on a weekly basis from …


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. …



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