March 14th

Rhythms of The Mesozoic

Though many of the dominant animals looked different, life progressed much as it does today throughout the 180 million years that we call the Mesozoic era. These rhythms of life–which modern civilization can sometimes drown out–create the framework for the lives and deaths of numberless beings.

Dinosaurs, especially mounted in museums, can seem so remote and mythic–almost immune to everyday events like rainstorms or insect bites. But we must see dinosaurs as animals. They hunted and were hunted in a cycle between predator and prey that has persisted almost as long as life on this planet has persisted. They cherished the light of day and feared the lengthening shadows that preceded night.

On those ancient continents–just starting to resemble the ones we know today–there were wet and dry seasons. The herbivorous herds migrated to find fresh, succulent plants. The hungry predators followed them. As the weather changed throughout the year, the flora changed. Insects, like dung beetles, responded to the arrival of the herds. As dinosaurs ate through trees, they ingested fungi working hard to break down rotting wood. Just like today, the ecosystems were bound together in countless ways–both extreme and subtle. But too often, dinosaurs steal the show and we forget the connections between all lifeforms that existed then and still exists today.

Each dinosaur had its own rhythms, too–heartbeats, breath, reproductive cycles, courting, fighting. All of their existences balanced on the thin line between death and life. More broadly, species of dinosaurs (and other animals) emerged, prospered, and became extinct. Seas rose and fell, climate fluctuated, rivers flooded, lakes dried up. Snow and rain fell on the dinosaurs. They reared their young. They each tried to stay alive a little longer.

And it is these rhythms, these stories, that we find preserved in the rocks. The banded sediments beneath our feet and beside our highways reveal the narratives of Earth’s past. Dinosaurs are among the main characters in life’s story on this planet for a significant amount of time. But although their success overshadows ours in many ways, we share their primal yearning to survive.

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