Category: prehistoric reptiles

Dinosaurs – The prehistoric reptiles

The prehistoric reptiles known as dinosaurs arose during the Middle to Late Triassic Period of the Mesozoic Era, some 230 million years ago. They were members of a subclass of reptiles called the archosaurs (“ruling reptiles”), a group that also includes birds and crocodiles.Scientists first began studying dinosaurs during the 1820s, when they discovered the bones of a large land reptile they dubbed a Megalosaurus (“big lizard”) buried in the English countryside. In 1842, Sir Richard Owen, Britain’s leading paleontologist, first coined the term “dinosaur.” Owen had examined bones from three different creatures–Megalosaurus, Iguanadon (“iguana tooth”) and Hylaeosaurus (“woodland lizard”). Each of them lived on land, was larger than any living reptile, walked with their legs directly beneath their bodies instead of out to the sides and had three more vertebrae in their hips than other known reptiles. Using this information, Owen determined that the three formed a special group of reptiles, which he named Dinosauria. The word comes from the ancient Greek word deinos (“terrible”) and sauros (“lizard” or “reptile”).

animated dinosaur photo: beach dinosaur beachdinosaur.gif

We know of literally thousands of non-avian dinosaur footprints scattered around the globe, from Late Triassic to Late Cretaceous age. You might not think that a footprint or a sequence of footprints (called a trackway) could tell us much, but actually it can tell us some general things about the biology of dinosaurs.Dinosaurs, living and extinct, have varied diets. We have some strong evidence of exactly what the diets of some of the extinct dinosaurs was, and we can observe birds directly to learn about their diets. Dentition (tooth structure) is one of the most abundant lines of evidence useful for determining dinosaur diets. Most ornithischian and sauropodomorph dinosaurs had rather simple, short stubby crenellated teeth, which are similar to those of living herbivores, and clearly not too good for eating much meat.

animated dinosaur photo: Dinosaur Head Turn dinosaurheadturn.gif

The word dinosaur comes from the Greek language and means ‘terrible lizard’. The word was coined by English paleontologist Richard Owen in 1842 and was meant to refer to Dinosaurs impressive size rather than their scary appearance.

Dinosaurs ruled the Earth for over 160 million years, from the Triassic period around 230 million years ago through the Jurassic period and until the end of the Cretaceous period around 65 million years ago.

The time period from 250 million years ago until around 65 million years ago is known as the Mesozoic Era. It is often referred to as the Age of the Dinosaurs because most dinosaurs developed and became extinct during this time.

It is believed that dinosaurs lived on Earth until around 65 million years ago when a mass extinction occurred.

Scientists believe that the event leading to the extinction may have been a massive asteroid impact or huge volcanic activity. Events such as these could have blocked out sunlight and significantly changed the Earth’s ecology.

The first dinosaur to be formally named was the Megalosaurus, back in 1824.

A person who studies dinosaurs is known as a paleontologist.

Rather than being carnivores (meat eaters), the largest dinosaurs such as the Brachiosaurus and Apatosaurus were actually herbivores (plant eaters).


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