(Photo credit to @Lolabythebay. Pictured: Manny Legasaurus Rex.)
You may have heard whispers about this post surfacing over the last few weeks. If so, you're likely on the Twittertubes. If you're not, you really should stop calling it gay and hop aboard. Aside from getting wide ranging hockey news at lightning speed, it's a good way to promote your website. Did I say your website? I meant my website, The Triple Deke. Tell your mom about it. And while you're at it, remind her that the back seat of my car isn't her laundry basket. (Perhaps you're wondering, "is he really that pig-headed? Does he realize how old 'mom' jokes are? And the answer of course is "42".)
How great is this Twitter? It allowed Brent to play video games with NFL Pro-Bowler Chad Ocho Cinco. Swear to God, this happened. Ocho Cinco, apparently bored as hell, challenged random people to play him in FIFA World Cup on Xbox, then ended up losing a 1-0 game to Brent, and -- my favorite part -- played a preseason football game only a few hours later. Reportedly, Chad yelled wildly throughout the soccer game over the most mundane of accomplishments, all while playing responsible defense and having a surprisingly good grasp of soccer fundamentals. Because of Twitter this shit happened. Honestly.
And now that we're completely off the track, I introduce to you the ten greatest dinosaurs of prehistoric time. Writing it is our resident dino expert, Baroque, who we've all wondered at one point or another 'why doesn't she have her own site'? We're providing the halfway house for wherever her eventual writing home is, as she unleashes this mammoth of a post. Now that cereals and dinosaurs have made their appearance on TTD, I can officially pull the plug. Good night everyone! Baroque has the floor.
Dinosaurs are fascinating animals. The challenging aspect of paleontology is not just that the animals being studied are all dead, and the scientists have to depend on fossil bones to try to figure out their anatomy, physiology, and behavior – but also that there are in many cases so few fossils of any one species.
Imagine if you had never seen any kind of cat before, and found five mostly complete lion skeletons, three domestic cat skulls, and a partial skeleton and a handful of teeth from a lynx. From JUST THAT, along with the knowledge of the environment in which the bones were found, you try to figure out how many different animals you have, what they looked like when they were alive, what they might have eaten, how they hunted, if they lived in groups or not, how they raised their young, how long they lived, what kind of environment they lived in, how many there were, etc. etc. etc. Not an easy task – and yet this is what paleontologists have to do. I would find it maddening, as it’s quite hard enough to figure out how the hell LIVE animals work – ones that haven’t existed for millions of years? – I’ll content myself with movies, thank you very much.
Like so many kids, I went through a paleontology phase, and although I never wanted to devote my career to studying prehistoric animals, my interest in them has never vanished. Hence, it isn’t all that difficult for me to put together a list of my Top Ten Dinosaurs (except for choosing the order).
(By dinosaurs, I am speaking specifically of the non-avian dinosaurs, as birds are actually the only surviving dinosaurs after the vast majority were wiped out 65 million years ago. I didn’t include any non-dinosaur animals from the same period, such as mosasaurs (swimming reptiles), crocodiles, or pterosaurs (flying reptiles). Maybe no one else would notice, but I would. I also stuck with species that are pretty recognizable to anyone who went through a dinosaur phase, even though they might not remember the names of the animals. And I used genus names only, even though there may be several known species, which isn’t correct, but is sufficient for the purpose of this list.) J
The name of this dinosaur means “fused lizard” or “stiffened lizard” and is given from the fact that its bones in the skull and other parts of its body are fused together for strength. It had a wide, squat body, small head, walked on all fours, and was a plant-eater (although with such a tiny little brain, it would have eaten crayons too, if they existed at the time). The most obvious characteristic of this dinosaur is the armor made of knobs and plates of bone embedded in the skin called osteoderms or scutes, as well as the club-shaped tail. This dinosaur was about 20 to 30 feet long, 5 feet wide and 5.5 feet high at the hip.
Why it makes my list:
It reminds me of a turtle, despite the fact dinosaurs became extinct 65 million years ago and turtles still survive to the present, and they don’t have a very close relative recently. Ankylosaurus is the quintessential armored dinosaur and this tank-like animal lasted right until the end of the Cretaceous Period and the final dinosaur extinction (except for birds).
For some reason Ankylosaurus reminds me of Vesa Toskala, probably because both are chubby, round, and well protected. I think the dinosaur might have better lateral movement, although Toskala has a better glove hand (if only because the dinosaur has no thumbs).
This dinosaur walked on its hind legs (was bipedal), and had large eyes, a small brain, and a very thick skull with funny lumpy knobs around the edge of the dome. The bone on top of its skull was up to 10 inches thick, which got this dinosaur the name “thick headed lizard.” It reached an adult size of about 15 feet long, and these plant-eaters likely lived in herds.
Why it makes my list:
This animal shows the importance of looking at the actual anatomy of the beast before making assumptions about lifestyle. For a long time it was thought that they acted like bighorn sheep, and the males rammed each other head-to-head in competition for females; now paleontologists know that the bone on top of the domed skull, although thick, was too porous and fragile to withstand such an impact, so they tried to impress females by squealing their tires drinking lots of beer driving fancy cars hitting each other on the flanks with their heads instead. No accounting for tastes, I suppose. Considering the extinction and whatnot, in retrospect maybe they should have chosen another option because the females weren’t really that impressed after all, and wandered off bored while the punch-drunk males tried to mate with nearby shrubbery.
Pachycephalosaurus reminds of new Toronto Maple Leaf captain Dion Phaneuf, probably for its obvious leadership abilities. Not for the thick lumpy skull covered with blunt boney bumps to protect its tiny brain from impact. Honest.
This is one of the ceratopsians, or “horn-headed” dinosaurs, characterized by various skull adornments such as neck frills, spikes, and nose horns. Styracosaurus had some of everything and thus is very distinctive, and often depicted in popular culture. It was about 18 feet long, 6 feet high and the horn on its beak-like snout was about two feet long. This dinosaur was herbivorous (plant eating) and quadrupedal (walked on all four legs). It may have been a herding animal. The name Styracosaurus means “spiked lizard.” Clearly no paleontologists stayed up late coming up with a name for this fossil.
Why it makes my list:
The ceratopsians have always been my favorite group of dinosaurs, so I had to include at least one of them. I find it interesting that there is so much debate over what the heck the horns and spikes and frills were actually for. Ideas have included a place for muscle attachment for chewing tough plants, increasing surface area for thermoregulation, using the horns and spikes as defensive weapons against dangerous predators, using them against each other in combat for status or mates, or using them as display in rituals of herd dominance or courtship and mating.
This species reminds me of anyone with a distinctive and odd-looking hairstyle. Although while the horns and frill of the dinosaur might have been used for sexual display, it’s hard to see Mike Commodore or Steve Hartnell getting the same attractive power out of their chosen head adornments. Maybe they are good conversationalists? It is a puzzle indeed.
This creature was a plant-eating dinosaur with a horny beak and tightly-packed cheek teeth for grinding vegetation and was about 30 feet long and nine feet high at the hips. The back legs were longer than the forelimbs, but it probably was mostly bipedal at high speeds and dropped to all fours when walking and foraging on plants lower to the ground. These animals had their “thumbs” replaced with odd spikes, from two to six inches long. At first it was thought that the spikes were on the snouts of the living animals, which seems laughable now because we know so much more about them than when they were first discovered in 1822 and described in 1825 by Gideon Mantell. His wife Mary had found its teeth and a few bones, and the resemblance of the teeth to the modern iguana led him to name it Iguanodon, or “iguana tooth.”
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/fd/Goodrich_Iguanodon.jpg (first attempt, now known to be incorrect)
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f7/Iguanodon_feeding.jpg (later attempt, now also known to be incorrect)
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/13/Iguanodon_BW.jpg (based on most current information)
Why it makes my list:
Although not especially large, and a fairly widespread and common dinosaur at the time, or distinctive in any way except for its odd thumb spikes, this dinosaur deserves a spot because it was one of the first of these extinct creatures to be discovered by human beings. Dinosaurs, despite 65 million years of absence, are so much a part of popular culture purely through the power of human imagination that it seems very strange to me to imagine a world where there was no idea, in anyone’s mind, that such animals had ever lived. The incredible richness and biodiversity of an entire planet was completely unknown before Iguanodon and a couple of other dinosaurs were unearthed. Because it has been known for so long, it is also interesting to follow its artistic representation as a gauge for how dinosaurs were seen at the time, from enormous slow-moving (and presumably also slow-witted) lizards, to bipedal but still slow and ponderous animals that clearly became extinct because they were too primitive to adapt to rapidly changing environmental conditions, to the more agile and dynamic current construct as a lively and well-adapted animal.
As the changing reconstructions of Iguanodon reflect growing scientific knowledge as much as cultural ideas of what a dinosaur is, the hockey equivalent is more nebulous than a single particular player. This creature reminds me of the hockey player who first engages a fan’s interest and wins them over to the sport for good. It might be the first player they saw live, the first one they heard on the radio while listening late at night, the first one a parent told them about, or one they read about from an earlier era. Each fan has a different hook into the game of hockey, and as the representation of Iguanodon has evolved, each fan’s perception of the game evolves as they become more aware of the sport.
If you don’t recognize this dinosaur by name, know that the name means “tyrant lizard,” and can picture it in your mind’s eye, you must have been spending your life in a cave. On Mars. With your fingers in your ears. Maybe you were also in a coma. THIS is the lawyer-munching true star of “Jurassic Park,” one of the largest carnivores ever to live on earth, and possibly the top predator in North America at the time, as well as a scavenger. It had an enormous head counterbalanced by a massive tail, walked on its powerful hind limbs only as it had tiny forelimbs, and the largest complete skeleton found was 42 feet long and 13 feet high at the hip. Fortunately for paleontologists more than 30 specimens of this animal have been found, many of them nearly complete skeletons, so it enables both more information on the possible ecology and biomechanics, but also a lot more debate over issues such as how fast it could have run and if it was a predator or scavenger. Without debates there are fewer papers and conferences and it makes looking for fossils much less enticing.
Why it makes my list:
One of the largest land predators in history HAS to be on the list. Despite the fact that some researchers think it might be primarily a scavenger, like an enormous buzzard, in popular culture it is usually portrayed as a deadly and extremely dangerous predator. What is indisputable is that it had a skull that could be five feet long, many huge teeth, and enough bite strength to slice a person in half. A modern human with a high-powered rifle would stand about as much chance against Tyrannosaurus as one of our ancestors with a stone-tipped spear against a sabre-toothed cat. Possibly even less. (And contrary to “Jurassic Park,” they likely had excellent smell and eyesight judging by the shape of the brain cavity. Paleontologist and kids would have been goners and the movie would have been much shorter and more boring.)
The hockey equivalent of a T. rex doesn’t exist yet. We’ll know it has emerged when a hockey player lunges at Gary Bettman from behind a potted plant in the vestibule of the NHL offices and with a loud roar of potent rage tears him bloody limb from dismembered limb, because Tyrannosaurs and lawyers are natural enemies. That part of the movie was 100% correct.
First, forget “Jurassic Park” on this one, even more than the other dinosaurs portrayed. I love the movie, but this is probably the dinosaur that was subject to the most artistic license, particularly in terms of exaggerating the size a lot. (Oddly enough, raptors have been found since the movie came out that are comparable in size, so this may be a case of art imitating life, but the discovery of the life not preceding the art.) The name is accurate; the sharp hind claw is accurate, but otherwise…
The name Velociraptor means “swift seizer” and was very appropriate for this animal. It was about six feet long from upturned snout to the end of its long tail, about a foot and a half high at the hip, and had a jaw full of sharp teeth. It was bipedal and a very swift runner, moderately intelligent for a dinosaur, a meat-eater, and had feathers. There is some thought that they may have hunted in packs, but this is poorly supported by most fossil evidence. Smaller animals are less likely to fossilize than larger animals because their bones are generally much more delicate and likely to be destroyed, but since these creatures lived in a dry dune-filled environment they actually have left a pretty good fossil record, with over a dozen well-preserved individuals known.
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/bf/Fightingdinosamnh2.jpg (fossil of a Velociraptor in combat with a Protoceratops, likely buried by a collapsing sand dune. The raptor is on its back with a hindlimb claw in the neck of the presumed prey, and the beak of the Protoceratops is clamped on a raptor forelimb.)
Why it makes my list:
This little guy was a quite fearsome predator, despite its small size for a dinosaur. It was quick, intelligent, and had well developed hands with sharp claws. The confirmation of feathers in the fossils also really clinched the connection between dinosaurs and birds, which as a science nerd I find incredibly exciting. Dinosaurs are these exotic, extinct creatures and birds are common everyday animals … yet if both groups were around today, we would think that birds were just the group of dinosaur species that were smaller than average and had feathers. Or perhaps that dinosaurs were just large, funny looking birds. Yet this small creature is a major reason why humans would never have evolved if the dinosaurs weren’t wiped out. Our small mammalian relatives were prey species, and the only way they managed to live in the shadows of comparative giants was to shift their lifestyle and their habits (think about how many mammals are nocturnal, and consider the roots of the behavior may have been avoiding predation by dinosaurs such as Velociraptor and it makes sense that their hold on our imagination is so strong).
Velociraptor was small, quick, maneuverable, good hands, intelligent, and dangerous. Put feathers on Martin St. Louis and they could be brothers (well, at least extremely distant cousins).
The name Allosaurus means “different lizard” which referred to the structure of the vertebrae, different from other dinosaurs. Allosaurus was a large carnivore with a large skull, short and strong S-shaped neck, long tail, and strong rear legs. The forelimbs were much shorter than the hind limbs, but were still quite strong with sharp claws and capable of holding prey. It had small bony projections over the eyes that may have been for shading its eyes from the sun, protection from damage, or for display. Also, although it could not unhinge its jaw in the same way a snake can, there was enough flexibility to bow its jaws out and increase the gape size to take even more meat in one bite. From nose to tail the most common species was approximately 30 feet long, and it stood about nine feet high at the hip. It wasn’t the largest carnivorous dinosaur or even largest theropod that existed, but it was the largest predator in its environment at the time and at the top of the food chain. There is debate over whether or not it was a solitary hunter and showed aggression toward other members of its species, or if it hunted in packs. If it was a pack hunter it would have likely been able to successfully take down even large sauropods or other predators of the time. This is a well known dinosaur in both paleontology and popular culture because of the large number of excellent fossil finds, from all ages of individuals.
Why it makes my list:
Large, fairly quick, and more intelligent than most dinosaurs, this was the most common predator in a large tract of what is now Western North America and probably the adults had very little to fear from other dinosaurs. Illness and injury would have been issues, as is true even with large modern predators, but once the young Allosaurus had reached a larger size they would be unconcerned with predators. Unlike Tyrannosaurus there isn’t any debate over whether this dinosaur was a predator or a scavenger. It was a predator, and the most dangerous one of its time, and my favorite carnivorous dinosaur. Since it is a species found in North America, when I was young I imagined finding Allosaurus bones while I was on vacation, because it seemed a lot more likely I would be vacationing in Montana or Colorado than in Mongolia.
Consider Alexander Ovechkin. Definitely different, and definitely possessing a certain speed and ferocity in the way he plays hockey that very few other players have. Not having hair Allosaurus was spared the unfrozen caveman look of the Russian skater, for which the species should have been extremely thankful, as Ovechkin is many things, but physically attractive is not really one of them.
I am not generally a big fan of the sauropods (the long-necked, long-tailed, four-legged plant-eaters) but I do like Brachiosaurus a lot. The sauropods most closely resemble giraffes in the modern mammalian-dominated world, with long necks, long legs, and long tails to counterbalance the weight of the neck. These animals were most likely browsers on the tops of tall trees, instead of (as depicted in so many of the earliest drawings) living in the water to support their huge bulk. They lived on the prairies and moved through forests of giant conifers, which they likely ate. The name Brachiosaurus means “arm lizard” which was given to these animals because their forelimbs (arms) were longer than their hindlimbs. These animals were mind-staggeringly large, reaching an estimated length of around 80 feet and a head that was about 40 feet above the ground. For comparison, the largest giraffe on record was about 19 feet tall – only half the height and far, FAR lighter. This is one of the largest land animals ever known, and a widely recognized animal both in paleontology and popular culture.
Oddball fact: There is a mounted skeleton of a Brachiosaurus in O’Hare International Airport in Chicago.
Why it makes my list:
Are you kidding? It’s HUGE. The very idea of an animal that is that enormous and is not a whale boggles the mind. And these things likely lived in groups, so just imagine the way the ground must have shuddered as a herd of these creatures moved majestically across the plain. It would have been like the buffalo stampede in “Dances With Wolves” but even more so. And without Kevin Costner anywhere around. Or if he was around, he would have been squooshed into a small mammalian smear under one of their gigantic feet.
If Brachiosaurus was a hockey player, with the long arms and huge size it reminds me of skaters like Zdeno Chara and Tyler Myers. But even TALLER. Every team would need to have an outdoor rink for those special occasions of hosting such an incredibly tall visiting player. Retractable domes on hockey rinks? Perhaps.
Parasaurolophus was one of the hadrosaurs, or “duck-billed dinosaurs” so called because of the shape of their skulls, with a flat wide duck-bill-like snout. The name of this dinosaur means “near crested lizard” because it was thought to be related to Saurolophus or “crested lizard.” This is one of the rarest of the duckbills, known only from a few fossil remains. As best can be judged, this animal was about 30 feet long, with a skull five to six and a half feet long, including the prominent crest. This animal probably foraged for plants to eat while on all fours but rose up only on its hind limbs when it wanted to move quickly. The mouth had banks of teeth that it could move in a grinding motion to chew vegetation, useful as fossilized stomach contents have included pine needles, leaves, and twigs. The most prominent feature was the long cranial crest which has had many potential functions ascribed to it over the years as more research has been done. Currently the functions include display, thermoregulation to keep the animal’s brain cool, and use as a resonating chamber for sound production.
Why it makes my list:
The cranial crest. This one feature has been such an object of speculation it’s amazing how many ideas scientists have come up with. When it was thought that hadrosaurs were aquatic, it was supposed to be a snorkel or the attachment for an elephant-like proboscis for breathing, then maybe it was for salt glands, or for increasing its sense of smell so it could know when predators were approaching, or it was for combat between males for females, or it was used to bull its way through the brush. All of these functions have been discredited. Now it is believed that the crest was used for display (it may even have been brightly colored or had a skin-flap “flag” attached to increase the signal), thermoregulation, and as a resonating chamber for calling to other animals. This function interests me the most because modern day depictions of dinosaurs have a lot of roaring and hissing, and the idea of a creature with a call like a foghorn is something I find appealing.
Characterized perhaps by both a louder and more unusual voice than other dinosaurs, this might be the well-spoken, accessible player on every team who is so often interviewed by reporters. Or the loud obnoxious guy on the team with the booming voice that everyone else hates. I guess it depends on if you believe the calls were used more frequently for courtship behavior to attract mates, or some type of territorial signal to warn off other males from his territory, females, or his beer fridge.
Triceratops is my favorite dinosaur, ever since I was a kid. If I could have had any dinosaur as a pet, this was the one I always wanted. I adore the large predators, but I knew they would just eat neighborhood cats and I would get in trouble. An herbivore would be easier to control, easier to feed because I could just take him out in the woods, and since he walked on four legs I could ride him to school. I even had the name "Darwin" all picked out. Triceratops means "three-horned face" and is given to this animal for the three large horns on its skull (a skull that may have been longer than swven feet), one on the top of the beaked snout similar to a rhinoceros, and the other two above the eyes. Triceratops also had a large neck frill, a bulky body with four sturdy legs, and a short tail. This dinosaur was likely a browser on low vegetation such as cycads and brush, and was perhaps a solitary animal for the most part, with no real fossil evidence of herding behavior. This is the best known of the ceratopsians (horn-headed dinosaurs), with skeletal remains from many individuals and many life stages recovered. It was about 30 feet long and 10 feet high at adult size...or at least what we always THOUGHT was adult size, until just a few years ago.
A contemporary, similar sized, closely related dinosaur found in the same area is Torosaurus. It was very similar to Triceratops, roughly the same size, also a four-legged herbivore, with the most obvious difference being a neck frill that was much longer and had two large holes to lighten the weight. As more and more work was done, it was clear that as Triceratops aged, their neck frills became larger, and there was thinning in the same areas of bone that in Torosaurus were gone completely and the only stuff remaining was skin and associated connective tissue in those areas. It now appears that there is no such thing as Torosaurus at all, but it was just a name given to the fully adult form of Triceratops! (Fortunately for all of us who love Triceratops, that was the species that was discovered and named first, it is better researched and better known, so its name takes precedence.)
It is clear that Triceratops was preyed upon by Tyrannosaurus, although there is a lot of doubt about if there were ever the titanic battles that have been portrayed in television or film or books. Paleontologists aren’t even sure if the animal could have actually used its horns as weapons for charging an attacker, or if they were used in combat with other Triceratops. Likely they were used for display, more as moose show off their large antlers to each other when posturing, or rhinoceros beetles. The neck frill might have been used to protect the neck from injury from an attacking predator, or it too might have been used for display. Whatever the actual purpose, these were very impressive animals.
Torosaurus, now thought to be the mature form of Triceratops
Why it makes my list:
This has always been my favorite dinosaur, and it fascinates me that despite the clear similarities to a modern animal in the rhinoceros, and despite a fairly extensive fossil record in comparison to other dinosaurs, there is not only so much debate over how it lived and how it functioned as a living, breathing animal within its environment, but science keeps figuring out ways to get more information out of the fossils and the surrounding rocks and computer simulations to get a better idea of how Triceratops lived. The work that goes into figuring out this stuff gives me a lot of respect for the patience and the creativity of paleontologists.
If Triceratops were a hockey player, it would be the big lug who wasn’t especially fast, wasn’t especially nimble, wasn’t especially aggressive, but would stick up for himself and teammates against all threats. Not aggressive and goonish, but willing to fight if no one else would (even if he wasn’t very good at it).
Despite being gone for 65 million years, through human research and imagination dinosaurs as a group are as much dynamic living creatures now as they ever were, and that is the root of the fascination with dinosaurs that so many people have. Via our own efforts, we have brought them back to life almost as fully as a real-world “Jurassic Park” ever could, at the same time avoiding the risk of getting ourselves eaten. (But I still want a pet Triceratops to ride to work.) With each new fossil discovery our understanding of the world they lived in grows and evolves and becomes more vivid and richly detailed, and that is the fun of biology right there – figuring out how the heck all these crazy organisms actually WORK because some creatures are just plain strange.
Well, that’s more than enough rambling on my part. Thanks to Tyler for letting me throw so many multi-syllabic words around and talk about some of my favorite extinct animals.