January 10th

The Amazing Lives of Dinosaurs

Dinosaurs are too often viewed as old, dead things. They are commonly regarded as dusty skeletons in dank museum halls or overgrown reptiles from primordial jungles.

What we’ve learned in the past few decades–and are still trying to understand today–is just how dynamic the lives of dinosaurs were. They were socially complex creatures, organizing their lives in the rituals of courtship, nesting, battling rivals, fighting for survival, and raising the next generation. As each year passes, we learn more about how dinosaurs lived out their extraordinary lives.

Many of the “weapons” we commonly associate with dinosaurs–horns and plates–were most likely used not for fighting, but instead were crucial for sex appeal. So Triceratops and its kin were not equipped with face swords, but were more akin to moose or antelope–sparring and courting with their antlers.

But ankylosaur tail clubs and stegosaur tail spikes were weapons, and these defenses were not to be trifled with. We take the shapes of familiar dinosaurs for granted, but actually imagining a clash between a Stegosaurus and an Allosaurus is a savage affair–a bone crunching gore-fest that would have likely been the end of one or both of the combatants.

National Geographic News
National Geographic News

Dinosaurs like Sinosauropteryx may have used their banded tail fluff for courting dances or other mating displays. Microraptor, as we saw earlier this week, and its feathered kin were gliding from tree to tree in the Mesozoic forests. And giant titanosaurs used their long tails to clock predators into submission. We know dinosaurs burrowed. That some of them raised their young with care. That others migrated in vast herds along the ancient continents. They bugled through trombone-like head crests and hunted each other mercilessly across ancient plains and deserts. And they ruled nearly every terrestrial ecosystem niche for almost 200 million years.

Today, avian dinosaurs live at the planet’s poles, some still making vast migrations in the air (arctic terns), while others swim in our oceans (penguins and oceanic diving birds). Some of them (peregrine falcons) are among the fastest animals on earth (hitting 200 mph in a stoop), or so graceful they can fly in any direction, even backwards (hummingbirds). They have kicks that are powerful enough to kill a person (ostriches), or create resonating sound chambers to send their calls for love to long distance recipients (kakapos).

So next time some old luddite calls themselves a dinosaur, correct them. Don’t think of dinosaurs as huge, brutish lizards. Remember them as varied and beautiful creatures with as much sophistication and spirit as modern animals.

We want to see pictures of you with your favorite dino-features! Share your images of weird and wonderful dinosaurs with us on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #TDIDinos.