10 Myths About Dinosaurs

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Do You Believe These 10 Notorious Dinosaur Myths?

Raptorex (WikiSpaces).

Thanks to decades of misleading newspaper headlines, made-up TV documentaries, and blockbuster movies like Jurassic World, people around the world continue to hold mistaken beliefs about dinosaurs. On the following slides, you'll discover 10 myths about dinosaurs that aren't actually true.

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Myth - Dinosaurs Were the First Reptiles to Rule the Earth

Turfanosuchus, a typical archosaur (Nobu Tamura).

The first true reptiles evolved from their amphibian forebears during the late Carboniferous period, over 300 million years ago, while the first true dinosaurs didn't appear until well into the Triassic period (about 230 million years ago). In between, the earth's continents were dominated by various families of prehistoric reptiles, including therapsids, pelycosaurs and archosaurs (the last of which eventually evolved into pterosaurs, crocodiles and, yes, our dinosaur friends).

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Myth - Dinosaurs and Humans Lived at the Same Time

Also known as the "Flintstones fallacy," this misconception is less widespread than it used to be (except among some fundamentalist Christians, who insist that the earth was only created 6,000 years ago and dinosaurs hitched a ride on Noah's Ark). Still, even today, kids' cartoons routinely portray cavemen and tyrannosaurs living side-by-side, and many people unfamiliar with the concept of "deep time" don't appreciate the 65-million-year gulf between the last dinosaurs and the first human beings.

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Myth - All Dinosaurs Had Green, Scaly Skin

Talos, a typical feathered dinosaur (Emily Willoughby).

There's something about a brightly feathered, or even brightly colored, dinosaur that doesn't seem quite "right" to modern eyes--after all, most contemporary reptiles are green and scaly, and that's the way dinosaurs are always portrayed in Hollywood movies. The fact is, though, that even scaly-skinned dinosaurs probably sported dabs of bright color (such as red or orange), and it's now an incontrovertible fact that most theropods were covered with feathers during at least some stage of their life cycles. 

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Myth - Dinosaurs Were Always at the Top of the Food Chain

The giant crocodile Sarcosuchus may have feasted on dinosaurs (Flickr).

Certainly, huge, meat-eating dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus Rex and Giganotosaurus were the apex predators of their ecosystems, chowing down on anything that moved (or didn't move, if they preferred abandoned carcasses). But the fact is that smaller dinosaurs, even carnivorous ones, were routinely preyed on by pterosaurs, marine reptiles, crocodiles, birds, and even mammals--for example, one 20-pound Cretaceous mammal, Repenomamus, is known to have feasted on Psittacosaurus juveniles.

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Myth - Dimetrodon, Pteranodon and Kronosaurus Were All Dinosaurs

Dimetrodon, not a dinosaur (Staatliches Museum of Natural History).

People tend to indiscriminately use the word "dinosaur" to describe any huge reptile that lived millions of years ago. Although they were closely related, pterosaurs like Pteranodon and marine reptiles like Kronosaurus weren't technically dinosaurs, nor was Dimetrodon, which lived tens of millions of years before the first dinosaurs had even evolved. (For the record, true dinosaurs possessed characteristically straight, "locked-in" legs, and didn't have the splayed walking styles of archosaurs, turtles and crocodiles.)

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Myth - Dinosaurs Were Nature's "D" Students

Troodon is often touted as the smartest dinosaur that ever lived (London Natural History Museum).

As a rule, dinosaurs weren't the brightest creatures on the face of the earth, and multi-ton herbivores, in particular, were only a little bit smarter than their favorite plants. But just because Stegosaurus had a walnut-sized brain doesn't imply the same cognitive deficit for meat-eaters like Allosaurus: in fact, some theropods were relatively intelligent by the standards of the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, and one, Troodon, may have been a virtual Albert Einstein compared to other dinosaurs. 

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Myth - All Dinosaurs Lived at the Same Time and in the Same Place

Karen Carr

Quick: who would win a claw-to-claw battle, Tyrannosaurus Rex or Spinosaurus? Well, the question is meaningless, since T. Rex lived in late Cretaceous North America (about 65 million years ago) and Spinosaurus lived in middle Cretaceous Africa (about 100 million years ago). The fact is that most dinosaur genera were separated by millions of years of deep evolutionary time, as well as thousands of miles; the Mesozoic Era wasn't like Jurassic Park, where central Asian Velociraptors coexisted with herds of North American Triceratops.

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Myth - Dinosaurs Were Instantly Incinerated by the K/T Meteor Impact

K/T meteor
An artist's impression of the K/T meteor impact (NASA).

About 65 million years ago, a mile-wide meteor or comet smashed into Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, raising a cloud of dust and ash that spread around the world, blotted out the sun, and caused plants worldwide to wither. The popular perception is that dinosaurs (along with pterosaurs and marine reptiles) were killed by this explosion within hours, but in fact, it may have taken as long as a couple of hundred thousand years for the last straggling dinosaurs to starve to death. (For more on this subject, see 10 Myths About Dinosaur Extinction.)

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Myth - Dinosaurs Went Extinct Because They Were "Unfit"

Isisaurus (Dmitry Bogdanov).

This is one of the most pernicious of all dinosaur myths. The fact is that dinosaurs were supremely fitted to their environment; they managed to dominate terrestrial life for over 150 million years, a few orders of magnitude longer than modern humans. It was only when global conditions suddenly changed, in the wake of the K/T meteor impact, that dinosaurs (through no fault of their own) found themselves saddled with the wrong set of adaptations and disappeared off the face of the earth. 

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Myth - Dinosaurs Have Left No Living Descendants

Eoconfuciusornis (Nobu Tamura).

Today, ample fossil evidence points to the fact that modern birds evolved from dinosaurs--to the extent that some evolutionary biologists insist that birds technically *are* dinosaurs, cladistically speaking. If you want to impress your friends, you can make a convincing case that ostriches, chickens, pigeons and sparrows are more closely related to dinosaurs than are any reptiles or lizards alive today, including alligators, crocodiles, snakes, turtles and geckos. 

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Strauss, Bob. "10 Myths About Dinosaurs." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, thoughtco.com/myths-about-dinosaurs-1091956. Strauss, Bob. (2020, August 27). 10 Myths About Dinosaurs. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/myths-about-dinosaurs-1091956 Strauss, Bob. "10 Myths About Dinosaurs." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/myths-about-dinosaurs-1091956 (accessed January 22, 2021).