From a scientific viewpoint, however, the study of dinosaurs is important both for understanding the causes of past major extinctions of land animals and for understanding the changes in biological diversity caused by previous geological and climatic changes of the Earth. These changes are still occurring today. A wealth of new information about dinosaurs has been learned over the past 30 years, and science's old ideas of dinosaurs as slow, clumsy beasts have been totally turned around. This pamphlet contains answers to some frequently asked questions about dinosaurs, with current ideas and evidence to correct some long-lived popular misconceptions. Although much has been discovered recently about dinosaurs, there is still a great deal more to learn about our planet and its ancient inhabitants.
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When did the dinosaurs first appear on Earth?
The oldest dinosaur types are known from rocks in Argentina and Brazil and are about 230 million years old. The most primitive of these types, Eoraptor, was a small meat-eating dinosaur. Because Eoraptor's skeleton shows some advanced skeletal features, older dinosaurs may yet be found.
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Did people and dinosaurs live at the same time?
No! After the dinosaurs died out, nearly 65 million years passed before people appeared on Earth. However, small mammals (including shrew-sized primates) were alive at the time of the dinosaurs. Many scientists who study dinosaurs (vertebrate paleontologists) now think that birds are direct descendants of one line of carnivorous dinosaurs, and some consider that they in fact represent modern living dinosaurs. This theory remains under discussion and shows that there is still much we don't know about dinosaurs.
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How are dinosaurs named?
Dinosaurs generally are named after a characteristic body feature, after the place where they were found, or after a person involved in the discovery. Usually the name consists of two Greek or Latin words (or combinations); in order, these are the genus (plural, genera) and the species name. For example, the Greek and Latin combination (binomen) Tyrannosaurus rex means "king of the tyrant lizards." Biologists name modern animals exactly the same way. Some examples include humans (Homo sapiens), domestic dogs (Canis familiaris), golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos), box turtles (Terrapene carolina), and rattlesnakes (Crotalus horridus).
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How long could a dinosaur live?
Animal lifespans relate in part to their body size and in part to their type of metabolism. Dinosaur lifespans probably varied in length from tens of years to hundreds of years. Their possible maximum age can be estimated from the maximum lifespans of modern reptiles, such as the 66-year lifespan of the common alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) and the impressive lifespan of a Black Seychelles Tortoise (Geochelone (Aldabrachelys) sumeirei). One specimen of this now-extinct species, which was an adult when captured, lived a record 152 years in captivity (1766-1918) and had an accidental death. These estimates, based on lifespans of cold-blooded animals, would be too long if dinosaurs had metabolisms more similar to modern birds and mammals.
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What did dinosaurs eat?
Some dinosaurs ate lizards, turtles, eggs, or early mammals. Some hunted other dinosaurs or scavenged dead animals. Most, however, ate plants (but not grass, which hadn't evolved yet). Rocks that contains dinosaur bones also contain fossil pollen and spores that indicate hundreds to thousands of types of plants existed during the Mesozoic Era. Many of these plants had edible leaves, including evergreen conifers (pine trees, redwoods, and their relatives), ferns, mosses, horsetail rushes, cycads, ginkos, and in the latter part of the dinosaur age flowering (fruiting) plants. Although the exact time of origin for flowering plants is still uncertain, the last of the dinosaurs certainly had fruit available to eat