Science has transformed our understanding of these fantastic creatures in the past two decades in ways that surprise and delight.
I’m Katie Hunt, standing in for Ashley Strickland — and in this edition of Wonder Theory, I’m taking you on a deep dive into dinosaurs.
What do you remember about dinosaurs from childhood books or “Jurassic Park”? That dinosaurs were towering, grayish-green, evolutionary failures?
Some estimates suggest there were half a million species. Tiny birdlike dinosaurs could have danced in your palm while bus-size sauropods had a small head. They sported feathers, fur and bright colors.
A long time ago…
Tantalizing insights into dinosaur courtship come from what we know about living animals, particularly birds. Some ground nesting birds signal they are good mates by a dance that involves a type of scratching called lekking.
Dinosaurs engaged in similar display behavior, according to fossilized “scrapes” left behind in 100 million-year-old rocks in the Dakota Sandstone of western Colorado.
Flying reptiles called pterosaurs, which reached the size of small planes, dominated the skies as early as 215 million years ago.
What would it have been like to hop in a time machine and encounter one of these massive creatures?
Quetzalcoatlus, which lived 72 million years ago in the Late Cretaceous period, was a “giant flying murder head,” according to Mike Habib, research associate at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History’s Dinosaur Institute. This pterosaur walked around on its hands and feet, with folded wings.
Its skull was 50% longer than the skull of a T. rex, with a toothless beak. It would probably be making fast, strange motions like that of a bird. And it could punch off the ground in nine-tenths of a second. “These things are spring-loaded leaping demons,” Habib said.
Climate shaped the lives of our ancestors, with warmer periods sometimes allowing early humans to spread around the planet.
North and South America were the last continents to be populated. The melting of the North American ice sheets toward the end of the ice age, around 13,000 years ago, opened up migration routes between what’s now Siberia and Alaska.
Before then, making such a journey was assumed impossible because two massive ice sheets covered the upper third of North America 19,000 to 26,000 years ago. The ice and cold would have made much of the continent uninhabitable and the now-lost Beringia land bridge impassable.
Turn, turn, turn
If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, you know it as the fall equinox. For people south of the equator, this equinox signals the coming of spring.
Long before the age of clocks, satellites and modern technology, our ancient ancestors knew a lot about the movement of the sun across the sky — enough to build massive monuments and temples that served as giant calendars to mark the seasons.
Here are awesome stories from modern times.