Sunday, January 22, 2012

The 5 Best Dinosaurs

Guys, I am a dude who has spent a lot of time thinking about dinosaurs. Dinosaurs are awesome, and if you don't agree, you are a communist. And not, like, a real communist like Leon Trotsky, who was probably a pretty sweet dude. I mean a STRAW MAN COMMUNIST that is clearly WRONG. Dinosaurs were awesome, this is a universal truth. In fact, they are so awesome that we, as a culture, have been obsessing over them since the first American dinosaurs were discovered in the 1850's. I wasn't alive at that point, and I do not currently have a time machine, so I've only been obsessing over them since I was 3. And while I may be more than a century behind culture when it comes to 'obsession duration', I have more than made up for that when it comes to 'effort put into said obsession'.
As such, I feel qualified in saying I know more about dinosaurs than most people who are not, in fact, paleontologists that study dinosaurs professionally. That's why when people say their favorite dinosaur is "Tyrannosaurus Rex!" I just scoff at them and think they're Dinosaur posers. T-Rex can eat a dick, and I don't even think dinosaurs had those. Here's my list of the 5 best dinosaurs, which I'm giving to you because everyone else is wrong.

5. Deinonychus

If this doesn't look awesome to you,then you are mistaken.

Okay, so you all saw Jurassic Park, right? So you remember the Velociraptors, yes? They found that raptor skeleton in the Badlands of South Dakota when the movie started, and then they turned into the main antagonist dinosaurs at the end of the film? Well, those weren't really Velociraptors at all, they were really a dinosaur called Deinonychus.

Not pictured: Velociraptors. No, seriously.

In the late 80's- when the novel ‘Jurassic Park’ was written- there was a push by some in the dino community to reclassify Deinonychus- a 6-foot tall America Dromaeosaur killing machine- as a subspecies of Velociraptor- a 4-ish foot tall Chinese import Dromaeosaur that wasn't nearly as awesome as Deinonychus. Much like the whole "T-Rex can't see you when you don't move" bullshit, by the early 90's everyone had decided this was stupid, and best left ignored. Unfortunately, the movie was based on the novel, and the dumb-80's-crap-science made it into the film.
Deinonychus is almost as awesome in real life as his movie-fied version made him out to be, though. That claw was just as hardcore, and they likely did hunt in packs. Though the cheetah speed and the smarter than dolphins stuff is a little embellished, they really were pretty close to the lizard hellspawn murder machines of the movies. If tigers were more lizard-ly and used switchblades, they'd be almost as cool as Deinonychus.

Velociraptor is the blue one, Deinonychus the green. The orange one is Utahraptor, who abandoned stealth tactics to costar in a fairly successful webcomic by a Canadian.

The only reason that Deinonychus is all the way down here at number 5 instead of making it to the top of the list is... well... science sort of made them less cool a few years ago. It's long been known that birds are evolutionary descendants of dinosaurs (most encyclopedias and scientists these days actually call birds "non-avian dinosaurs", so take that, extinction! Dinosaurs aren’t dead after all!). But fossil evidence has now pretty much proven that Deinonychus also was feathered. Like, head-to-toe.

Suddenly, considerably less impressive.

So, Deinonychus kind of looked like a giant chicken, which knocks him down a few pegs on this list. But to be fair, your precious Tyrannosaurus may well have been feathered too. Think about that, for a minute. No really, think about it. Suddenly he kind of looks like a 42-foot-long pussy, doesn't he?

Yes. Yes, he does.

Imagine a Triceratops. You know what a Triceratops looks like, don't pretend you don't. Okay, now imagine what would happen if a Triceratops got drunk, fucked a tree stump and got it pregnant, and no one ever gave the tree stump an abortion to put the little bastard out of its misery. Then, once it was hatched, they gave this horrific match of dinosaur and tree DNA a wicked sweet name. You have just imagined the ridiculous amazingness that is Pachyrhinosaurus.

Nothing says "socially retarded" quite like that expression.

Look at that thing. Nothing that ridiculous should have lived. Ever. It's got tree stumps coming out of its nose, probably with broccoli boogers. Then they added a parrot’s beak and horns growing out of its head, because apparently god is an angry child who just said "fuck it" and threw everything together at the last minute (see: platypus, duck-billed). Yet, somehow, she looks like a fucking badass, doesn't she? Would you fuck with something that looked like that? I submit that you would not.

"Dude, I will seriously fuck you up!"

Then there's the name, which might actually be misleading, because Pachyrhinosaurus was considerably larger than any rhinoceros you've ever seen. If the Mesozoic era was Sin City, then Pachyrhinosaurus was Marv. Ugly as shit, something was seriously wrong with its face, but shit dude, I wouldn't piss one off.

Whether or not it fed Elijah Wood to his own dog remains one of science's great mysteries.

Kentrosaurus was Stegosaurus' little brother who grew up reading too many early 90's comic books. After watching Heavy Metal and Mad Max films one afternoon, he decided that leather and spikes are two things that you can never have too much of. After looking at Stegosaurus and seeing his tail, Kentrosaurus went "Four spikes? Fuck that! Why don't you get a matching sun dress for that girly little tail?" Then, because he certainly wasn't trying to compensate for anything (of course not), Kentrosaurus went out and covered his back half with EIGHTEEN spikes.

Shoulder spikes, you guys. He is primed for shoulderbased combat.

Guys, Kentrosaurus was INTENSE. Look at that, his ass was undefeatable. If that ass came up to you, you would shriek in horror, and not just because a large reptilian creature was mooning you. It looks like some supervillain designed that tail! There are two foot long spikes covering the whole god damn thing!

This is not a creature who believes in the concept of 'overkill'.

What's awesome here, by the way, is how deviously brilliant this is, from a sciencey stand point. Stegosaurs like Kentrosaurus here were actually pretty stupid. Like, dumber than cows kind of stupid. A lobotomized goldfish could ring circles around Kentrosaurus in an IQ test, is what I'm saying. If you were a predator, it probably wouldn't have been very difficult to sneak up on a dinosaur this dumb.
But it didn't matter, you see, because the part of himself Kentrosaurus couldn't see was basically all murder-mace! Just by casually swinging his tail, Kentrosaurus probably killed more innocents than Ted Bundy. This dinosaur was 15 feet long, and exactly half of it was a certified war crime. Are you really going to mess with something cow sized that has a Shaquille O'Neil death stick attached to its tail? Probably not.

Whether or not he could slam dunk is a different matter.

At this point, you might be wondering why I've called T-Rex a big 'ole pussy a couple of times in this article. Why must I crush your childhood like that, you ask? Well, because I can, mostly. Famed paleontologist Dr. Jack Horner has described T-Rex as basically a big vulture, maybe even going so far as being colored similarly. Kids, when I was 6 I wanted to BE Jack Horner, and I bow to his superior wisdom.

'Vulture' as in the scavenger bird, not the Spider-Man villain.

T-Rex had tiny arms, made its kids do all the leg work, and was probably ugly on top of it. The only reason it's famous is that it has a badass name, and the only reason it got its badass name is that it was discovered first. However, there is a dinosaur with all of T-Rex's awesome parts and with way less sucky things. She's called Carcharodontosaurus, and she is terrifying.

It's name means "Sharp toothed lizard." This is a factual name, you guys.

Bigger. Meaner. Probably faster. Less evidence of being a scavenger. Carcharodontosaurus is everything you're 8 year old self wanted T-Rex to be without all the bullshit. We don't know for a fact (yet) if her arms were pathetically tiny, but why assume they were? She’s not as big as Spinosarus, but Spinosaurus probably just ate fish, and that is lame as hell.

Spinosaurus is kind of a flashy dinosaur.

This is a 45-foot long, 15 ton monster who could swallow Buicks whole. Everyone who thinks T-Rex is the best dinosaur is wrong, because Carcharodontosaurus is, in every way, T-Rex PLUS. They either a.) don't know about Carcharodontosaurus or b.) are racists, because T-Rex lived in the USA, and Carcharodontosaurus was North African. And racism is wrong, brother.

I don't know about you, but I am not a dinosaur racist.

1. Apatosaurus

Pictured: One sweet dinosaur.

Okay, confession time. The best dinosaur isn't something I can prove with science and awesomeness, like the four before it. The best dinosaur is personal, and I can't even really explain why. But I've always known what the best dinosaur is, and I will never be convinced otherwise. Because the best dinosaur is Apatosaurus.
I've known that since I first learned about dinosaurs. Apatosaurus is my favorite, and he could murder my own grandmother in front of me and I'd still say that. I don't really know why I think that, but I wonder if has something to do with the naming nonsense going on with Apatosaurus.
When you ask someone who doesn't really know dinosaurs what their favorite dinosaur is, they usually say "Tyrannosaurus Rex!" I've already proven that they don't know what the hell they're talking about. So, the next most frequent answer is probably "Brontosaurus." The problem with this answer is that "Brontosaurus" is not a dinosaur that ever existed. Scientists thought it was, until they realized that "Brontosaurus" wasn't a new species, but was actually the exact same animal as Apatosaurus, discovered 2 years earlier. And this realization? It was made in friggin’ 1903. That was 109 years ago, you guys. Brontosaurus hasn't been a real dinosaur for OVER A CENTURY and people still say it's they're favorite. They are wrong, because their real favorite must actually be Apatosaurus.

I would so ride one of these if they weren't extinct.

But wait, it gets weirder! Because I was a dinosaur nut as a kid (still am), I have a lot of books on dinosaurus, and when it comes to pictures of Apatosaurus, most of them are wrong. That's because, despite being discovered in 1877, no one discovered an Apatosaurus skull until the late ‘70s.
Apatosaurus is a Sauropod dinosaur, and as it turns out, sauropod skullls are fragile and don't fossilize easilly. For over a century, no one really knew what the shape of Apatosaurus' head looked like, so they always just substituted the skull from a Diplodocus or Camarasaurus instead. Which was hilarious if you were in the know, because Diplodocus and Camarasaurus look nothing alike.

You may have noticed that there are some fundamental differences here.

Once the real skull was discovered, artists could use that to base their Apatosaurus drawings off of, but a whole lot of dino-drawings before that got things dead wrong. On top of that, it wasn't until the late 90's that computer imaging was used to discover that sauropods like Apatosaurus couldn't raise their necks like giraffes to reach the tops of trees. They'd literally break their necks trying such a feat. The problem with this knowledge, of course, is that pretty much every drawing of sauropod dinosaurs ever has depicted them doing EXACTLY THAT.

It's a nice painting, Mr. Knight, but could you possibly make it more factually accurate?

Maybe I just like controversy? Because a new study suggests that the Brontosaurus debate may be coming back. Not in a "Brontosaurus is a real dinosaur" kind of way, but in a "10 different dinosaurs may really be the same one after all" kind of thing. One of those dinosaurs? Yep, it's Apatosaurus alright. The argument is interesting, but as yet unproven. We'll see what the scientists have to say in 20 years or so.
The one thing I can be sure of, though, is that whatever its name may be by then, Apatosaurus will still be the best dinosaur. And if you disagree, you are a COMMUNIST.

Known fact: Communists do not drink water.


  1. Okay, that was one of the most interesting pieces about dinosaurs I have ever read (and I am way older than you). And, I agree with you very nearly 100%, something that pretty much never happens for me any more. So, thanks for the morning read. Keep up the good work. Don't let them ignorant trexers drive the narrative any longer. Apatosaurus reigns!

    1. Thanks! I have plans to do a lot more with dinosaur stuff eventually, mostly because I'm thinking about doing a book that's a travel log/history of digging up dinosaurs in America. It's a ways away, as I'll need to secure some funding, but one of these days. And indeed Apatosaurs does!

  2. Before you go accusing other people of not knowing what they're talking about, maybe you should try knowing what you're talking about.

    Here’s a good article on the subject if you want the opinion of someone who knows more than I do:

    Instead of taking the opinion of one man who as fact, did you ever bother looking at what this "evidence" of T. rex being a scavenger actually WAS? It’s so bad a 10-year-old could rebut it. Here are Jack Horner's arguments, with explanations of how idiotic they are in parentheses:

    * T. rex's size indicates that it is a scavenger, as it is conducive to scaring smaller animals from kills. (Predators today get much larger than scavengers do. Considering that Cretaceous land herbivores were far larger than the largest modern ones, it makes sense that Cretaceous predators were larger as well. Also: CARCHARODONTOSAURUS WAS BIGGER THAN T. REX!)

    * The legs of large theropods were designed for walking instead of running (questionable)

    * They can only use their mouths to attack prey (like many predators nowadays)

    * Its enlarged olfactory lobe indicates it had a keen sense of smell (many predators nowadays use smell to track prey)

    * Its small forelimbs would not have been able to hold prey (Biomechanical analyses show that a full-grown T. rex was more than 3 times stronger than a human and could lift around 439 lbs with one bicep-not arm, bicep. Their thick cortical bones also indicate that they could withstand heavy loads, and their arms have a very limited range of motion, indicating that they would have been very effective at holding struggling prey. We don't know that that's what they were used for, but it's a plausible theory)

    * T. rex had an extremely powerful bite that would allow it to break apart bones to get the marrow inside (Like a hyena or a tasmanian devil, but unlike any known scavenger)

    Here are also some other reasons as to why T. rex being a scavenger makes no sense, in ascending order of convincingness:

    * T. rex had binocular vision, an almost exclusively predatory trait.

    * The only known scavenging tetrapods are vultures.

    * Jack Horner only ever treated the theory as plausible when he didn't have an incentive to be accurate. The one time he wrote a scientific paper on the subject, he wrote that the T. rex had feeding habits like hyenas, which are predominantly predators.

    * Studies have shown that any vertebrate scavenger must be capable of flying in order to survive. One that walked would use up more energy looking for carrion than a scavenging lifestyle could sustain.

    * Horner flat-out admitted that he only said it to be contrarian and start arguments!

    * We have fossils that show HEALED bite marks that were identifiably made by a T. rex. Dead things do not heal. So that's debate over, right there.

    It is extremely rare in palaeontology to have such clear proof of something. If you’re sufficiently willing to ignore evidence as to claim that T. rex was a scavenger, then you may as well just claim all fossils were put there by God to test our faith.