Dinosaurs—everyone loves them, right? I mean, ask any five-year-old kid and they’ll beam in amazement as they bubble around saying how big and scary and great the T. rex is. And I don’t think that amazement goes away when we grow up. Dinosaurs have and always will be one of our greatest fascinations, and one of our greatest mysteries.
They roamed the Earth at a time when it was still young and wild, when humanity was nowhere near in sight, and now only fossilized remnants are there for us to know how they lived and died—well, that, and their legacy: birds. You may think that crocodiles are the dinosaurs’ direct descendants, but in truth, birds have a lot more in common with them than we would imagine.
And as it always happens with mysteries, they usually come along with myths. Either because we’ve seen things in movies, TV or “dinosaur books”, we have come to accept them as general truths, even though they may only be misconceptions. After all, not everyone is a palaeontologist …I am not a palaeontologist , either, but I’ve read things that actual palaeontologists have said and here I come to pass it on to you, in case you didn’t already know.
So, without further ado, here are five common misconceptions about dinosaurs—and their truths:
5. Dinosaurs dragged their tails
Back when everyone believed dinosaurs were just very big reptiles, it was a common belief that dinosaurs walked with limp, drooping tails. From the 70s on, though, palaeontologists have restored dinosaur samples with spines parallel to the ground and lifted tails. Researchers have found that dinosaurs had tail support structures like strengthened ossified tendons, and the most obvious one: the lack of preserved tail drags on trackways.
4. It’s always sunny in Dinoland
For some reason, whenever we think of dinosaurs, we imagine them in a hot, dense jungle. And yes, there were dinosaurs which lived under those climatic conditions, but we have to remember that dinosaurs lived for 160 million years all across the globe—which means they also occupied a wide range of diverse habitats. Yes, there were dinosaurs in the snow, how cool is that, right?
3. All Dinosaurs were enormous because the world was different
First, just like with us humans, where not everyone can be a +2m tall basketball player—not every dinosaur could be a T. rex. Dinosaurs actually occupied a variety of sizes, which was part of what made them so successful. Fine, but the big ones were so big, bigger than any big creature now! Theories say that it was because gravity was different on Earth at that point and that there was more oxygen in the air. Truth is that is not the reason. Big dinos were that big because they had special air sacs that made their bones lighter, so they could grow better and the fact that they laid eggs instead of actually birthing their offspring was another factor, too.
2. The T. rex roared (like a lion, maybe)
A powerful roar is a sound fit for a king, isn’t it? Everyone who has watched the Jurassic Park movies probably has the sound of that T. rex echoing in their heads, but sadly, that was only the product of a filmmaker’s imagination. Researchers look to birds and reptiles to guess what the T. rex might have sounded like—if they made any sound at all. The sound could have been like the ones of a crocodile or an ostrich, a shriek or a grumble, but we will probably never know the answer to this one—you know, unless someone happened to pull out an audio recording from 65 million years ago.
1. Big dinosaurs had a second brain in their butts
Now, personally, this was the most amusing one for me. Some dinosaurs, like sauropods and the Stegosaurus had a large cavity in their hips, which was associated with the neural canal, where the spinal cord passes—so a 19th century palaeontologist said that this might mean this type of dinosaur had a “posterior braincase” to coordinate their legs and tails. Truth is, there are many kinds of vertebrates that have an expansion of the spinal cord to regulate limb movement (without a second brain) and in the case of the Stegosaurus and the sauropods, that hip cavity could have also been a place to store energy-rich carbohydrates, as seen in some species of birds. In any case, no brains were there.
So much for busted misconceptions. Now, if dinosaurs are your thing and you want to have a special insight into the life of the dinosaur king, the T. rex, you might want to tune in to a certain special experiment… Could it be possible that the T. rex had feathers? Was it a cold blooded reptile or was it actually warm blooded? Have I piqued enough of your curiosity? Then tune in to T. rex Autopsy, premiering in June on NatGeo, and all your questions will be answered.