Thanks to movies like Land Before Time and Jurassic Park (and its most recent installment, Jurassic World), Dinosaurs have been front and center in the public eye and are being exposed to a wider audience than ever before. Hollywood’s portrayal of dinosaurs has consequently lead to a host of misconceptions. There is much debate (even among paleontologists) regarding even basic Dinosaur facts partially due to the fact that what remains are fossils that are millions of years old. This puts several limitations on how much accurate information we can gather. Still, there is also quite a bit that we are grounded in thanks to evidence and study. Many dinosaur facts have been rejected by the scientific community and yet have managed to live on due to public perception.
Brontosaurus is a favorite among many, but he actually has a bad case of mistaken identity. During the early period of paleontology, there was a bitter war between two paleontologists. O.C Marsh from Yale and Edward Drinker Cope of Philadelphia were known to have a mutual distaste for each other. They competed ruthlessly to outdo each other in discovering and naming Dinosaurs into publication. There are even rumors that they would encourage their fossil collectors to smash dinosaur skeletons that remained in the ground just so the other could not claim them.
In 1877, Marsh discovered the partial remains of a long-necked, long tailed dinosaur he named Apatosaurus. The skeleton was missing a skull, and so Marsh published a reconstruction of Apatosaurus using the head of another dinosaur to complete the skeleton. He thought he discovered another dinosaur two years later when his fossil collectors brought him a more complete skeleton of Apatosaurus, dubbing this one Brontosaurus. This mistake was spotted by scientists in 1903 but still Brontosaurus lived on.
Apatosaurus was even displayed with the wrong skull in 1932 and remained there for nearly 50 years! It wasn’t until two Carnegie researchers revisited the controversy in the 1970s that Brontosaurus finally met its end. Brontosaurus still managed to be immortalized by movies and popular media after this discovery was made. The reason? Presumably Brontosaurus is just a better name. According to Matt Lamanna, curator at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, “Brontosaurus means ‘thunder lizard,'” he says. “It’s a big, evocative name, whereas Apatosaurus means ‘deceptive lizard.’ It’s quite a bit more boring.”
Tyrannosaurus Rex and Brontosaurus are often the most recognized dinosaurs and it is believed they existed at the same time. In reality, there is over an 80 million year gap between the two Dinosaurs. T-Rex, the unofficial king of Dinosaurs, ruled around 66 million years ago. Brontosaurus, or rather Apatosaurus, roamed North America about 150 million years ago. There is less of a gap between us and the almighty T-Rex. That means we would have sooner been prey for a T-Rex than good old Brontosaurus!
A dinosaur that did co-exist during Apatosaurus’ reign is Stegosaurus. Stegosaurus lived 150 to 145 million years ago during the late Jurassic period. Stegosaurus often gets a bad rap about having a brain the size of a walnut. In reality, his brain was actually twice the size of a walnut. While this may not seem much better, it considerably increases his intelligence by 100%! Kenneth Carpenter, director of the USU Eastern Prehistoric Museum in Utah, comments that a Stegosaurus brain is more aptly compared to “the size and shape of a bent hot dog.” Considering Stegosaurus was approximately 30 ft long and 14 ft tall, though, this still doesn’t amount to much brain power, unfortunately.
Dinosaurs are often depicted with limp, drooping tails when in fact researchers have restored dinosaurs with spines held parallel to the ground. This means that their tails would actually be lifted above the ground and also parallel to the ground. Osteology has shown support structures such as strengthening ossified tendons that contradict the limp perception of dinosaur tails. Another damning piece of evidence is a lack of tail drags in track ways that would be expected from dinosaurs that dragged their tails. This leads us back to Tyrannosaurus Rex, and his popular depiction as standing straight up.
Standing upright could have possibly weakened and could have even dislocated several joints in the hips or skull, thanks to the sheer weight of the dinosaur. In reality, a T-Rex stood much more parallel to the ground, making his arms useful to hold on to prey. His relatively small arms are also not as fragile as they appear. It is believed T-Rex would have been able to carry in excess of 450 pounds – per arm! Each arm also had deadly claws that you did not want to be on the other end of. Unusually strong for such a small limb, indeed.
Many of these misconceptions live on to this day because what we know of dinosaurs is largely taught to us by entertainment outlets. Movies like Jurassic World bring back to life creatures that existed millions and millions of years ago. They are meant to be exhilarating and captivating, and at the forefront truly entertainment. Creative executive decisions were made and are now immortalized for mass human consumption. Despite inaccuracies in their depictions, however, Dinosaurs undoubtedly remain one of the most fascinating groups of creatures from planet Earth.
For more information on the extinction of Dinosaurs, head over here.