Dinosaurs have been extinct for over 65 million years, but scientists just can’t let them rest in their colossal graves. Instead, they’re digging up fossils, conducting research, and otherwise changing our understanding of dinosaur biology and culture. Please enjoy these ten newly discovered facts and theories about the humungous monstrosities that once shook the earth.
There were billions of T-rexes
Given the rarity of fossil evidence, it’s easy to think the Tyrannosaurus Rex was an uncommon species of dinosaur, but scientists estimate there were around two and a half billion T-Rexes in total.
Sadly, that’s 2.5 billion dinos over the entire span of their existence, so there was never a time when billions of these creatures crowded the planet. At any given time during their 2.5 million year reign, there were probably around 20,000 alive. That’s still a ton of T-rexes, though.
The Spinosaurus was likely aquatic
For years, paleontologists believed that the Spinosaurus hunted by standing beside rivers and waiting for fish to swim by, like a jerk. But a newly discovered tail fossil and the Spinosaurus’ dense bones suggests that the species was aquatic, and lept into the water to swim down and destroy its prey, like a champ.
“It was basically a river monster,” according to Nizar Ibrahim, a paleontologist at the University of Detroit Mercy. I have nothing but respect for river monsters.
Sharks did not care when all the dinosaurs died
When an asteroid struck earth and wiped out all land-dwelling dinosaurs, sharks did not give a rip. They just kept on swimming and murdering, oblivious to the extinction event on the surface. Researchers report that shark dental diversity remained relatively unchanged before and after the extinction, indicating that it just didn’t affect sharks all that much, the smug bastards.
There was a “Reaper of Death”
A regular T-Rex is pretty badass, but paleontologists recently identified a tyrannosaurid subgroup so badass they named it Thanatotheristes, Greek for “Reaper of Death.”
“We chose a name that embodies what this tyrannosaur was as the only known large apex predator of its time in Canada, the reaper of death,” Darla Zelenitsky, a paleobiology professor, told BBC.
Inadvertently, these same paleontologists also chose the name of my symphonic black metal band.
There’s a new one, “The One Who Causes Fear”
I think paleontologists are in a competition to see who can give newly discovered species of dinosaurs the most hardcore names. Dinosaur-bothering scientists in Argentina dubbed a newly discovered species in the predator Abelisauridae family, “Llukalkan aliocranianus” or “The One Who Causes Fear.”
Research on who would win in a fight between a Reaper of Death and One Who Causes Fear has yet to be conducted, but I put my money on the T-Rex. It was way bigger: 12 meters long vs. One Who Causes Fear’s five metre length. (I have seen Jurassic Park and at least one of its sequels, so I know a little about dinosaurs.)
There’s also a “Panty Dragon”
Not all dinosaurs have fearsome names. Take the Pantydraco. Fossils of this stupid dinosaur were discovered in Wales in 2003. These wee jerks were only three meters long.
“Ugh, look at this useless species of dinosaurs we discovered. I’ll bet they were really lame,” Paleontologists did not say. “Let’s give it a dumb name that everyone will laugh at,” they did not add.
Actually, the “panty-” is short for “Pant-y-ffynnon,” the hollow of the spring/well in Welsh, referring to the quarry at Bonvilston in South Wales where it was found. Still, it’s a useless dinosaur. I’m sorry I had to tell you it exists and I’m glad it’s gone.
Dinosaurs got cancer, too
Life for dinosaurs was not all roaring and devouring. A team of paleontologists and pathologists studying a dinosaur bone from a roughly 75 million-year-old rock in Canada discovered evidence of osteosarcoma–malignant bone cancer. The researchers concluded that the cancer was advanced enough that it had likely spread to the rest of the animal.
While cancer was probably sad for the individual dinosaur victim and its family, it’s useful information for us humans. “If humans and dinosaurs get the same kinds of bone cancers,” George Washington University paleontologist Catherine Forster told Smithsonian Magazine, “then bone cancers developed deep in evolutionary history, before the mammal and reptile lineages split 300 million years ago.”
Wooly mammoths may walk the earth again
Wooly Mammoths weren’t exactly dinosaurs, but these prehistoric elephants were dinosaur-adjacent, and the fact that they might be cloned and made de-extinct is so damn cool, I can’t help but tell you about this.
I tell everyone about this. I’m all: “These scientists, right? At Harvard or some shit? Are like editing elephant DNA to add mammoth traits, essentially bringing THE WOOLY MAMMOTH BACK TO LIFE!” I do not get invited to the best cocktail parties.
Behold, the Wonderchicken
There was a time when dinosaurs and chicken/duck ancestors shared the earth, vying for survival, and perhaps organising inter-mural softball leagues to settle disputes.
Scientists recently identified a perfectly preserved skull of a prehistoric chicken-like-bird as evidence of the long history of these tasty fowl. They called it “Wonderchicken,” and I call it that too.
Although clearly much smaller and weaker than most kinds of dinosaurs, the chicken survived the extinction event that killed all the thunder-lizards, ending their ancient softball rivalry once and for all, and proving that birds are smarter than those extinct dinosaurs.
Dinosaurs may have been on their way out before the asteroid hit earth
When an asteroid struck earth 66 million years ago and killed all the dinosaurs, it might have been hastening a process already taking place. Scientists at the University of Bristol think the dinosaurs had been in decline for 10 million years prior to the extinction event, pinning the decline of dinosaurs to both a cooling climate and unstable ecosystems cause by a loss of herbivores.
“Not so fast,” replied scientists at the University of Bath. Their research concluded that dinosaurs were not in decline leading up to the asteroid strike, and might still be around today if they’d been luckier.