Five Awesome Prehistoric Beastsposted on 12/20/13
Illustrations by Geoffrey Stanton
As I sit at my desk, pondering a few assignments while listlessly gazing out the window, my inner child is throwing one hell of a temper tantrum. You see, long before the movie Jurassic Park hit theatres in 1993, I had decided to become a paleontologist. I would travel the world, get paid to sift through dirt, and discover a unique species that somehow had evaded previous digs. And all before the age of thirty. Then high school struck and I learned that I had no talent or interest in the sciences. I would never have the dirt-colored business cards with dino drawings and paleontology would never be featured on my resume.
But with the re-release of Jurassic Park in 3D, I have had a chance to dust off my collection of dino books and treasures. Let me tell you, Spielberg missed some huge opportunities. Sure, the massive tyrannosaurus rex was frightening but Spielberg could have featured even bigger and better creatures.
If you thought the Tyrannosaurus Rex was a large dino, allow me to introduce you to its big brother, the Spinosaurus. Unless some paleontologist unearths a ginormous dinosaur overnight, the Spinosaurus is the biggest carnivorous dinosaur by–quite literally–a ton. It lived along the north African shoreline, which has some paleontologists believing that it used its long, narrow skull to lance fish from the water. Along with its size, another distinguishing feature of the Spinosaur was the huge sail on its back. The question of why this dino had a sail has paleontologists twiddling their thumbs. Whether it was to help regulate the dino’s temperature or a characteristic of sexual selection, no one really knows. One thing I know for sure is that its sail was super rad. By this point, if you love the spinosaur as much as I do and were hoping to check out the creature’s original fossils, you’re totally out of luck. The original remains of the Spinosaur were destroyed by an Allied bombing raid during World War II.
The Quetzalcoatlus was the biggest flying creature (not technically a dinosaur by sciences’ standards) that ever existed. How big, you say? Well, let’s start with a point of reference. The wingspan of the Wandering Albatross, the largest bird around, is about eleven feet. From tip to tip, the Quetzalcoatlus’ wingspan was an enormous 30 feet. Imagine seeing a 30-foot dinosaur fly above you while drinking beers and playing ultimate frisbee in the park with your friends. Since its wings were basically just a structured flap of skin with no insulation, paleontologists believe this beast had a cold-blooded metabolism. A cold-blooded metabolism means that Quetzalcoatlus could not expend the energy needed to flap its wings, so this giant dinosaur stayed in the air simply by gliding. I know what I’m going to be for Halloween this year.
If even one Megalodon still roamed the ocean today, it’s safe to say no one would swim. As they are today, sharks are scary enough. Despite the fact that the megalodon has been extinct for millions of years, it still holds the record for biggest predatory marine animal in the history of our planet. The teeth of the megalodon were roughly seven inches of serrated, angry bone. That’s four inches bigger than the biggest Great White tooth to date. As if seven-inch teeth weren’t terrifying enough, the bite power on this fish was massive. According to a research team’s computer, the megalodon bit with a force of up to 18 tons. By comparison, the Great White bites with a force of 2 measly tons. Wimps. The truly sadistic thing about these guys is that there is evidence that the megalodon loved biting off a victim’s fin before going in for the actual kill. If all of these fun facts don’t have you running out of the ocean just yet, try this one on for size: Megalodon fossils have been found in just about every warm-water ocean. Land has never been more appealing. Nevermind, I think a Megalodon costume is the best Halloween idea ever.
Not only is it fun to pronounce (ank-eye-low-sore-us or ank-ill-oh-sore-us, depending on your mood) but this dinosaur happens to be the equivalent of the Presidential state car. The Ankylosaurus was low to the ground, slow moving, and basically impermeable. This dino was covered in thick layers of bone and keratin, making its only vulnerable area its underbelly. Adults weighed about six tons and were so low to the ground that even a Spinosaur would have a difficult time knocking it over. The Ankylosaur’s slow-moving, armored body required virtually no intelligence to stay alive. Despite the fact that it had such a small brain, the Ankylosaur was one of the last dinos to go extinct.
If any dinosaur is worth a better name, it’s probably this one. When he named the species, paleontologist Joseph Leidy thought he had an harmless lizard on his hands. However, what he had was a waist-high, feather-covered dino with above-average intelligence. The species was the proud owner of the some of the largest known brains of any dino group in proportion to the rest of its body. Its unusually large brain led one paleontologist to contemplate the evolution of the creature had it survived the extinction 65 million years ago. In 1982, Dale Russell served as the curator of vertebrate fossils at the National Museum of Canada. Russell suggested that since the Troodon brain weight was six times higher than other dinosaurs of its time, it could have evolved to be roughly the size of the human brain. Russell’s model, the “Dinosauroid,” is an eerily human-like creature with internal genitalia and many bird-like characteristics. So if you thought the idea of seeing a Quetzalcoatlus flying high in the sky was frightening, imagine waiting in line at the grocery store in front of a human-shaped dinosaur with semi-manipulative fingers and an appetite for flesh.
For more prehistoric beasts, check out: National Geographic Kids Ultimate Dinopedia: The Most Complete Dinosaur Reference Ever