Dinosaurs in the Frost

Dinosaur paleontology is full of apparent contradictions. One of the biggest of these is not only the very presence, but abundance, of these reptiles in and around Polar Regions. For animals long thought to have had metabolisms and bodies ill-suited for bearing the cold of prehistoric winters, the fact that a wide variety of dinosaur types are present in high latitudes has been making paleontologists question what they know about dinosaur biology and the Mesozoic climate for decades now.

Throughout much of the history of paleontology, dinosaurs have largely been found in mostly dry, temperate to tropical areas. This is probably more a reflection of where people spent most of their time looking than an indication of dinosaur distribution, as it’s much easier to look for fossils in places that are warm and dry. But when paleontologists started looking closer …

Your Brachiosaurus Is Not a Brachiosaurus

Brachiosaurus. The towering, graceful, giraffe-like sauropod with its skyward-stretching neck grazing the heavens, representing the peak of dinosaurian spectacle in the Jurassic. While the elongate Diplodocus and chunky Brontosaurus probably make it into dinosaur books to represent sauropods more often, and it hasn’t been considered the biggest dinosaur for several decades now, Brachiosaurus still stands as shining testament to the grandeur of evolution in the hearts of dinosaur fans worldwide. However, the animal you’re likely picturing in your head right now is not Brachiosaurus.

How can this be? Is this one of those Apatosaurus/Brontosaurus or Triceratops/Torosaurus things? Why can’t paleontologists leave our most beloved dinosaurs alone? Well fear not, because Brachiosaurus is still a valid dinosaur, and there’s a good reason as to why the animal you think is Brachiosaurus actually isn’t.

Brachiosaurus was …

The Real Dilophosaurus

Many people are at least vaguely familiar with Dilophosaurus thanks to its bit-part in the first Jurassic Park movie. It was that small-ish, cooing theropod with a pair of crests on its blunt head and that turned out to have a shocking extendible neck-frill and the ability to spit venom like a cobra. A classic scene no doubt, but as is usually the case with movie versions of dinosaurs, the real life animals were actually pretty different. So let’s talk about the real Dilophosaurus.

This dinosaur was first discovered in early Jurassic rocks from Arizona, and described by paleontologist Samuel Welles in 1954 (Welles, 1954). Due to the fragmentary nature of the first specimen’s skull, Welles initially thought the animal was an American species of Megalosaurus, and so named in Megalosaurus wetherilli. Welles later found better skeletal …

A Brief History of Birds

It’s now widely accepted amongst paleontologists that birds are living dinosaurs. This idea is actually not nearly as new as it appears, and was thrown around by paleontologists as far back as the late 19th century. It took a long time to catch on though, over 100 years in fact. Yet for the past decade or so at least, the ‘birds are dinosaurs’ theory has been accepted by all but a few fringe dissenters in the world of paleontology, no matter how much of a debate the media often makes it out to be.

Despite this, there’s still a fair bit of confused information misleading people as to why exactly birds are classified as dinosaurs, and how that relationship works. Hopefully this will make whole things a little clearer. It bears repeating that, while paleontologists are about a certain as …

An Introduction to Pterosaurs

Anyone who’s ever heard of a dinosaur almost certainly also knows about the pterosaurs- the flying reptiles that often serve as window dressing or to give a sense of scale to depictions of dinosaurs in prehistoric artwork. They also, to the eternal exasperation of paleontologists, get labeled by the media as ‘flying dinosaurs’. But the pterosaurs deserve better, and the study of their diversity and biology makes for a fascinating look into the Mesozoic Era.

To begin with, it bears repeating that pterosaurs are not dinosaurs, as they don’t have the anatomical features necessary for this classification (see our article on what it takes to be a dinosaur for more on this). But they’re close to dinosaurs, on the same side of the archosaur family tree, and are probably the closest major group to the dinosaurs themselves. They also showed …

Big Carnivores

Have you ever encountered a big predatory dinosaur in a book, museum, movie, etc., and ventured to identify said dinosaur as a Tyrannosaurus, only to be informed by some dino-obsessed little know-it-all (like your humble author) that what you thought was good old T. rex is actually Carcharodontosaurus saharicus, or Tarbosaurus baatar, or some other unheard of prehistoric beast? When did paleontologists name so many other dinosaurs? A lot of us grow up learning only the ‘fundamental’ dinosaurs of kid’s books and Spielberg movies. You have Brontosaurus as the long-necked one, Triceratops as the horned one, Stegosaurus as the weird spikey one, throw in some generic hadrosaurs bathing in the background for scenery, and T. rex as the big nasty bad guy.

I would probably blame the ‘quiet years’ of paleontology from the 30’s to the 70’s …

The Dinosaur of Champions

In the last article, we talked about the taxonomic confusion surrounding North American troodontids, and how this uncertainty is just now being resolved. What might come as a surprise to many readers is that the common hadrosaurid dinosaur Edmontosaurus, also known since the early days of paleontology in North America, has just as convoluted a history. It’s taken some miraculous discoveries and a lot of effort from paleontologists both past and present to work out the classification of this dinosaur and to overturn the myths and misconceptions surrounding its biology. Edmontosaurus, in turn, has rewarded paleontologists with a better understanding of dinosaur biology than nearly any extinct animal.

In a way, Edmontosaurus is kind of the ‘classic’ duck-billed dinosaur. With its long, flat skull and big duck-like beak, it’s pretty vanilla compared to some other hadrosaurs with their …

What’s Going On With Troodon?

It’s a precarious gamble in paleontology naming a new species of dinosaur from a single, isolated tooth. Things get pretty confusing after a while, which is why modern paleontologists don’t really do this anymore, and use unique, diagnostic features in the bones plus the teeth of fossil animals as a basis for describing a new species. A good example of this can be seen in the story of Troodon, a dinosaur many people think they know… But do we really?

The name Troodon formosus was given to a tooth collected in Montana in 1855. It was named by the forefather of American paleontology Joseph Leidy the following year, making it one of the first dinosaur remains known from North America (Leidy, 1856). It’s hard to blame Leidy for naming a whole new animal from a single tooth, since the …

A Day in the Life of Triceratops

Quick- picture everyone’s favourite horned dinosaur, Triceratops. More specifically, picture it alive, in its ecosystem, doing typical Triceratops things. Okay, how many people imagined this dinosaur engaged in mortal combat with its eternal nemesis, Tyrannosaurus? I don’t gamble, but if I did, I’d bet at least a few people imagined this. I find that when Triceratops is reconstructed in popular media doing more than just standing pretty to be admired, it’s usually doing one of two things: squaring off against the perpetual assault of T. rex (as in countless paintings, dioramas, exhibits, and films), or lying on the ground dead or dying. While I understand the appeal of the dramatic showdown between the last giant carnivore and horn-face of the Cretaceous, I think history has done a disservice to this dinosaur. It was more than just Tyrannosaurus chow

What’s the Biggest Dinosaur?

The mystery of the biggest dinosaur is one that, surprisingly, doesn’t concern most palaeontologists. That might seem unusual. What’s the point of these gigantic animals if we don’t figure out, first and foremost, which one was the biggest of them all?

It would be hard to deny that no one, palaeontologist or layperson, is completely unimpressed with the biggest dinosaurs known to science. Getting a sense of how big some of the true giants were reawakens that sense of childhood wonder that we’re all born with, but only a lucky few ever keep. But palaeontologists don’t study dinosaurs simply because they’re big. There are dozens of experts out there who pin their careers on fossil animals ranging from the size of an eagle to the size of a sparrow.

It’s the thrill of uncovering another fragment of a primordial world …

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