Who doesn’t love dinosaurs? They’re big hulking beasts that stir the imagination. Kids love ’em. On Career Day at the school my girlfriend teaches, two kids wanted to be paleontologist, and at least one kid wanted to be … um, a dinosaur. I’m sure with recent discoveries in the Human Genome Project, we can …
Perceptions on dinosaurs have changed over the years. They went from lumbering beasts to swift killing machines that can nonetheless be bested by kids with a working knowledge of gymnastics. And now … well, they’re supposed to be giant birds with feathers.
Who knows what fascinating discovery awaits us in the coming years? Did Stegasaurus use those plates like roofracks? Did scientists actually make the right call on Brontosaurus, and we can finally start using that much better name to describe the most popular of dinosaurs? Did dinosaurs actually have big black noses and floppy ears and were unbelievably huggable?
Until the next great dinosaur discovery comes, though, we can entertain ourselves with this hardly definitive list of the Top 10 Dinosaurs … Ever.
Troodon’s got a lot of good things going for it. It’s got the cool name, almost like some sort of Norse god. It’s got the reasonable size, standing at about 3 feet tall. It was one of the first dinosaurs discovered in North America, and, chronologically, was one of the last dinosaurs. It is believed to be one of the smartest dinosaurs due to its huge brain size. However, the real reason Troodon’s on this list is a statue done by paleontologist Dale Russell. This statue of a “Dinosauroid” envisioned what Troodon would look like today if it had never gone extinct.
I mean, look at it! Is that Grade-A nightmare fuel or what?
The Triassic is usually mentioned as the first era of the dinosaurs. Yet, much of that period was dominated by lumbering, ugly creatures like the Orinthodira and the Therapsida. There’s a reason no one’s making plushies of these guys: they’re not very huggable. But then Eoraptor came along, answering the prayers of marketers and Steven Spielberg. While Eoraptor is one of the smallest dinosaurs — only about 3 feet long — it is also one of the first dinosaurs. Paleontologists think this is the one from which all other dinosaurs are descended. He gets a pretty cool nickname, “the dawn dinosaur,” but that’s only appropriate for the dinosaur equivalent of Adam.
Argentinosaurus is the current winner of the “Largest Dinosaur” title. (Which, incidentally, makes it also the winner of the “Largest Land Animal Ever” title, too.) Other then that, there’s nothing much interesting about this guy. It’s basically the descendant of the Apatosaurus, and that guy hasn’t been cool since scientists started whining that we should never, ever call them Brontosauruses. On penalty of more whining.
The duck-billed dinosaurs are some of my favorite dinosaurs, mainly because they had such funky skulls that made crazy honking noises. A lot of them were sporting the bulbous mohawk look. Parasaurolophus was different. This fellow sported a long cranial crest. Also, the Parasaurolophus us probably the most duck-like of the duck-billed dinos. By the way, the existence of a creature that honked ad sported a duck beak should really have tipped off paleontologists that there was a pretty good chance that dinosaurs were really giant birds, not giant lizards.
6. Tyrannosaurus Rex
Ah, yes! The King of Dinosaurs! New discoveries like Gigantosaurus and Spinosaurus may have been larger and potentially more ferocious, but T. Rex is the one with all the press. It went toe-to-toe with King Kong, a flock of velociraptors, and Utahraptor. It gets the huge jaws and the freaky tiny arms which may or may not have been used for lifting itself off the ground. It could easily have made #1 on this list … if it wasn’t for Barney. Sorry, T. Rex… if you’re portrayed as purple and cuddly, you’re taking a tumble.
These fellows are the ones with the unnaturally thick skulls. Scientists initially thought that these guys were like rams and butted heads to impress the lady dinos. It turns out that the heads could not possibly have sustained the impact. So now the current theory is that wa Pachycephalosaurus ould use their heads to … ram another Pachy’s butt. That’s kinda disturbing. I’ll go with my theory: Pachycephalosauruses, with the natural head protection, were the dinosaur version of American football players, as dinosaurs, like us humans, were rather fond of athletic competition.
The ankylosaur family was an exceedingly cool type of dinosaur. They were armor-plated and spiky. Some even sported a nifty tail club. I get the feeling, though, that with all that heavy hardware, most ankylosaurs were about as mobile as turtles. I picked Sauropelta to represent the ankylosaur family, just because I dig the neck and shoulder spikes.
Ever since Charles R. Knight painted a mural showing T. Rex facing off against a Triceratops, pop culture has always considered these two to be natural enemies. There’s no proof that this happened; we just assume that big monster lizard things with sharp teeth will naturally pick fights with creatures with horns… just like in real life, where lions always do battle with rhinos in the savannah. Anyway, the painting raised Triceratops stock in the world. You can’t be mortal enemies with T. Rex and not become world famous. Which, by the way, I don’t think was quite fair to close Triceratops cousin, Pentaceratops. Not only does Pentaceratops have more horns (five instead of three), it also possesses the largest skull ever for a land animal. (Wikipedia specifically says “land vertebrate,” but I’m getting willies tring to figure out if there’s actually a “land invertebrate” with a larger skull. Brrrr….)
Like the candy that recalls its name, Brachiosaurus is both tough and sweet. It was known for decades as the world’s largest dinosaur until a series of discoveries negated that claim. It may yet climb its way back to the title of “World’s Largest Dinosaur” since one of its family, Sauroposeidon, is one of the contenders. (For my money, Sauroposeidon was just a taller Brachiosaurus with a cooler name. Much like Shaquille O’Neal.) Paleontologists think that Brachiosaurus was too much for the predators of the day. Allosaurus? Pfah, a minor nuisance. They’re even cooler since scientists finally decided that its nostrils weren’t mounted on the top of the head like snorkels… because frankly, everything’s cooler without snorkels.
By thsis point, you’re probably thinking: “El Santo, you’re crazy. Deinonychus? What the heck is that? You are clearly — and I mean, CLEARLY — trying to bolster his indie dinosaur cred by giving the number one slot to a creature no one’s ever heard of. I highly suspect that you’re only picking certain species due to the tongue-twister nature of their names.”
And… well, you’d be right, to a certain extent. I mean, how was I supposed to pass over Parasaurolophus? But you’d be wrong about Deinonychus, one of the most important dinosaur discoveries ever made. Pre-Deinonychus, scientists were inclined to believe that dinosaurs were slow plodding beasts that liked to sun themselves all day to warm their cold blood. Then paleontologists discovered Deinonychus, and suddenly they had to admit: this guy was built for speed. Sleek body, long legs, wiry forearms, and a vicious sickle-shaped toe. There was no way Deinonychus could be anything but a fast-moving killing machine. And from there, all preconceived notions of dinosaurs were updated. T. Rex, for example, didn’t just lie in wait for his prey. He could run with huge strides that can almost catch up with a Land Rover full of tourists.
So why isn’t Deinonychus discussed much these days? Two words: Jurassic Park. That movie made a star of Deinonychus’ close cousin, Velociraptor. From that point on, it was Velociraptor that got the starring movie roles, the toys, and the NBA franchises.
It also doesn’t help that, at least since the early 90’s, Deinonychus has been portrayed mainly as a feathered friend. I mean, look at the original concept behind Deinonychus when everyone thought it was a killer lizard.
No comparison: lizard Deinonychus was far more threatening.
The worst part? Velociraptor is from the same family, so it probably had feathers, too. But thanks to the Jurassic Park franchise, that’s not the version of Velociraptor you ever see.
Still, Deinonychus is my #1 dinosaur. The double-whammy of scientific relevance and the body built for murder was just too much to resist. Hooray for Deinonychus! Hooray for dinosaurs!