Dinosaurs have stirred the imagination of adults and children for thousands of years, creating myths and stories over the centuries. Some have turned out to be true, but many are false. Myths are generally facts mixed with fiction and the fiction becomes the most common element. All Dinosaur myths were based upon the “facts” of the times and several are still popular today.
One of the first myths is answered in the first sentence of this article, that people have only known about dinosaurs recently, since Sir Richard Owens named then in 1842. Many ancient civilizations saw and discovered the remains of massive creatures, they just weren’t sure of what they had found. The Greeks thought that they were bones left over from the pets of the gods or maybe from the gods themselves! Many places recognized the similarity to reptile skeletons, but being much heavier and larger, likely spawning the legends of “here there be dragons”. Dinosaur remains have been found for a long time, Richard Owens was just the first to use the term “dinosaur” in his paper of 1842. Since 1842, people now know those giant creatures as dinosaurs!
Dinosaurs were also considered to be cold-blooded, and popular myth still has them that way. Why? Because they were at first considered to be giant reptiles and everyone knows reptiles are cold-blooded! Now scientists have determined that they probably lived in cold places as well as warm and may have been closer to birds, able to keep warm through the night and survive harsher climates. Seems dinosaurs were both cold and warm blooded, but people first learned about the cold-blooded and thus that myth persists!
Giant size is another myth propagated by popular culture about dinosaurs. The giant bones were most obvious and first discovered, they are what every child first encounters in school when learning about dinosaurs. Big is easier to see and thus noticed more. The great Stegosaurus or fierce T. Rex were giant dinosaurs. But, all dinosaurs were not gigantic. Paleontologists now know that many were small dinosaurs, the size of chickens. These “little dinosaurs” lived and survived right alongside their larger relatives, doing their part in the ecosystem!
All dinosaurs had sharp teeth is one more popular misconception amongst many children and adults. This is because the skull of Tyrannosaurus Rex is so impressive and imprints itself in our minds. Many had small grinding teeth, some had flat molars for grinding down plants and some had no teeth at all, just hard bone plates like turtles do today. Dinosaurs were varied and so where their mouths. Myths are made of what impress people the most and few know what the teeth of the mighty Stegosaurus looked like because they remember the plates on its back, Stegosaurus had small teeth.
Tyrannosaurus was the first large carnivorous dinosaur discovered and became known as the ultimate predator, this myth persists. T. Rex is no longer considered to be the largest carnivore ever known, that title now belongs to Spinosaurus but T. Rex was the first and made bigger than life. Was Spinosaurus really the largest ever or will it be replaced? It could be replaced because all species of dinosaurs are not currently known, there are new ones being discovered each year. A very limited number have become fossilized. If a species lived in the wrong location, man may never know it existed. It is now thought that T. Rex may not have been a predator at all, but more of a scavenger.
Dinosaur extinction has been a subject of debate and spurred popular myths for centuries. First it was climate, then disease, then food and now a celestial object. The dinosaurs, contrary to popular myth did not disappear over night, they ruled the earth for over 160 million years. They also disappeared in groups, thus there were several periods of the dinosaurs and dinosaur extinctions. A comet or meteorite is now believed to have hit the Earth, triggering all sorts of problems, changing the land, food and weather, resulting in a “final” extinction. The asteroid or comet most likely triggered the other complications that resulted in the eventual extinction of the dinosaurs, but they died out over a few thousand years. Quickly from a geological viewpoint but not overnight.
Another common myth is that, except for a few small burrowing rodents, all the creatures from the time of the dinosaurs have disappeared. Many marine species are still around, such as sea turtles, crocodiles and quite a few insects. Cockroaches evolved 300 million years ago! Man (nor his immediate predecessors) was not around with the dinosaurs, he has only been on the planet a few million years.
And that brings up another common belief, that man will ever know all there is to know about dinosaurs. Myths are based upon facts, the facts as they are known at the time and mixed with fiction. Everything known about dinosaurs is based upon theory and speculation, little upon hard fact. We look, we guess, and we wonder. That is the best thing about dinosaurs is that they stimulate the imagination and cause us to wonder. Popular myths about dinosaurs will continue!