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Dinosaurs

Ancient books and tales, tell of unusual, reptile-like creatures that


once roamed the earth. There seem to have been many different
types of such gigantic reptiles, both large and small. Early
cultures, from Europe to China, gave many different names to
them. The people of long past in Europe called them 'dragons'.
Many of their descriptions of dragons sound similar to the
description of the creatures that we today call dinosaurs.

Dinosaurs have captured the imagination of man, since the


discovery of their fossils, due to their size and due to their
mysterious disappearance. The term 'dinosaur' was coined by Sir
Richard Owen (a Victorian anatomist) in 1841. It derives from two
Greek words which mean 'terrible or fearsome lizard'.

Dinosaurs are said to have roamed the earth over 230 million
years ago. Going from fossils found, scientists theorise that there
may have been a wide range of dinosaurs with over 500 genera.
Dinosaurs are classified under Archosaurs, which is Greek for
ruling lizards. Within the group, dinosaurs are further classified by
their gait. Though both crocodiles and dinosaurs fall under the
same category, dinosaurs have their legs extended directly
beneath the body while crocodiles have their legs sprawled on
either side.

Types of Dinosaurs

Dinosaurs varied both in eating habits and size. They can be


broadly classified into carnivores such as the Tyrannosaurus Rex
and herbivores such as the Diplodocus. Dinosaurs also varied by
size. On the taller side were the Sauropods and on the shorter
were the Theropods such as the Microraptor, which was less than
2 feet in height. One of the tallest dinosaurs is considered to be
the Argentinosaurus, which was estimated to be 85 feet in length.
Dinosaurs not only came in all shapes and sizes but
temperaments as well, from the towering and terrifying
Tyrannosaurs to the docile and rhino-like Triceratops.

Dinosaurs evolved different defence mechanisms. The


Stegosaurus, for example, was notable for its armoured plate-like
protrusions on its back. Other dinosaurs such as the Triceratops
had massive horns that they used to defend themselves against
predators.

As these massive beasts lumbered across the prehistoric land,


there were giant dinosaurs flying in the air above. These
dinosaurs had wingspans up to 12 metre. One such dinosaur was
the Pterosaurs, which resembled a blend between a giant bird and
bat. These mighty beasts were able to walk on all fours when they
did not take to the skies. In the seas, huge marine reptiles were
the dominant species. In fact, the Ichthyosaurs, which were fish
reptiles, are said to have appeared much earlier than the
dinosaurs.

What are Dinosaur Fossils?

Dinosaur fossils are the bones of dinosaurs that are preserved in


stone. The first fossils were discovered in 1819 in England.
Dinosaur fossils are found in the earth's sedimentary layer.
Moving river water deposits a layer of sedimentary rock. Animal
fossils that are found in this layer were trapped by running water
and were buried and preserved. Fossils are important as they help
us to draw inferences about not only the types of dinosaurs but
also information about how they lived their lives. It also helps in
identifying the time period in which a certain dinosaur lived and
therefore chart how the dinosaur may have evolved over time.
Fossils range in sizes. They can be microscopic to huge in terms of
the size of dinosaur bones.

Theories on Death of the Dinosaurs

Some scientists theorise that the so-called dragons of old could


have been remnants of the ancient dinosaurs. Another group of
scientists maintains that modern day birds are evolved forms of
dinosaurs. However, most scientists theorise that the dinosaurs
went extinct approximately 65 million years ago. They put forward
two main theories on why dinosaurs died. The first states that
extinction was a result of extensive weather changes at the end
of the Cretaceous period. These changes affected the ecosystem
and caused a drastic decrease in plant life. Consequently,
herbivorous animals first started to die out, followed by the death
of carnivorous animals.

One theory states that the extinction event was an impact event
an asteroid hit the earth. The dust cloud that resulted due to
this event blocked sunlight, which in turn, caused the plant life to
die out. Another variation of this theory states that instead of one
huge asteroid hitting the earth, a number of smaller asteroids hit
the earth simultaneously.

The other theory that has been put forth regarding the death of
dinosaurs is that they gradually died out due to a change in
climate. This change was caused due to global cooling and a fall
in the sea level. Cold-blooded creatures were not able to adapt to
this change. Added to this, there was a lot of volcanic activity at
the end of the Cretaceous period.

The problem with most extinction theories is that they cannot


explain why certain animals die out and why certain survived.
Even so man will always remain enchanted with these mighty
beasts that once roamed the earth.