Dinosaurs are varied from
ecological standpoints. Birds, at over 10,700 living
species, are among the most diverse groups of vertebrates. Using fossil evidence,
paleontologists have identified over 900 distinct
genera and more than 1,000 different species of non-avian dinosaurs. Dinosaurs are represented on every continent by both
extant species (birds) and fossil remains. Through the first half of the 20th century, before birds were recognized as dinosaurs, most of the scientific community believed dinosaurs to have been sluggish and
research conducted since the 1970s, however, has indicated that dinosaurs were active animals with elevated
metabolisms and numerous adaptations for social interaction. Some were
carnivorous. Evidence suggests that all dinosaurs were
egg-laying, and that
nest-building was a trait shared by many dinosaurs, both avian and non-avian.
While dinosaurs were ancestrally
extinct groups included
quadrupedal species, and some were able to shift between these stances. Elaborate display structures such as horns or crests are common to all dinosaur groups, and some extinct groups developed
skeletal modifications such as
bony armor and
spines. While the dinosaurs' modern-day surviving avian lineage (birds) are generally small due to the constraints of flight, many prehistoric dinosaurs (non-avian and avian) were large-bodied—the largest
sauropod dinosaurs are estimated to have reached lengths of 39.7 meters (130 feet) and heights of 18 m (59 ft) and were the largest land animals of all time. The misconception that non-avian dinosaurs were uniformly gigantic is based in part on
preservation bias, as large, sturdy
bones are more likely to last until they are fossilized. Many dinosaurs were quite small, some measuring about 50 centimeters (20 inches) in length.
The first dinosaur fossils were recognized in the early 19th century, with the name "dinosaur" (meaning "terrible lizard") being coined by Sir
Richard Owen in 1842 to refer to these "great fossil lizards". Since then, mounted fossil dinosaur skeletons have been major attractions at museums worldwide, and dinosaurs have become an enduring part of popular culture. The large sizes of some dinosaurs, as well as their seemingly monstrous and fantastic nature, have ensured their regular appearance in best-selling books and films, such as Jurassic Park. Persistent public enthusiasm for the animals has resulted in significant funding for dinosaur science, and new discoveries are regularly covered by the media.
Birds are now recognized as being the sole surviving lineage of theropod dinosaurs. In traditional
taxonomy, birds were considered a separate
class that had evolved from dinosaurs, a distinct
superorder. However, a majority of contemporary paleontologists concerned with dinosaurs reject the traditional style of classification in favor of
phylogenetic taxonomy; this approach requires that, for a group to be natural, all descendants of members of the group must be included in the group as well. Birds are thus considered to be dinosaurs and dinosaurs are, therefore, not extinct. Birds are classified as belonging to the subgroup
Maniraptora, which are
coelurosaurs, which are theropods, which are saurischians, which are dinosaurs.
Research by Matthew G. Baron,
David B. Norman, and Paul M. Barrett in 2017 suggested a radical revision of dinosaurian systematics. Phylogenetic analysis by Baron et al. recovered the Ornithischia as being closer to the Theropoda than the Sauropodomorpha, as opposed to the traditional union of theropods with sauropodomorphs. They resurrected the clade
Ornithoscelida to refer to the group containing Ornithischia and Theropoda. Dinosauria itself was re-defined as the last common ancestor of Triceratops horridus, Passer domesticus and Diplodocus carnegii, and all of its descendants, to ensure that sauropods and kin remain included as dinosaurs.
Dinosaurs were the dominant terrestrial vertebrates of the
MesozoicEra, especially the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. Other groups of animals were restricted in size and niches;
mammals, for example, rarely exceeded the size of a domestic cat, and were generally rodent-sized carnivores of small prey. They have always been recognized as an extremely varied group of animals; over 900 non-avian dinosaur genera have been identified with certainty as of 2018, and the total number of genera preserved in the fossil record has been estimated at around 1850, nearly 75% of which remain to be discovered, and 1124 species by 2016. A 1995 study predicted that about 3,400 dinosaur genera ever existed, including many that would not have been preserved in the fossil record.
In 2016, the estimated number of dinosaur species that existed in the Mesozoic was 1,543–2,468. In 2021, the number of modern-day birds (avian dinosaurs) was estimated to be at 10,806 species. Some are herbivorous, others carnivorous, including seed-eaters, fish-eaters, insectivores, and omnivores. While dinosaurs were ancestrally bipedal (as are all modern birds), some prehistoric species were quadrupeds, and others, such as Anchisaurus and Iguanodon, could walk just as easily on two or four legs. Cranial modifications like horns and crests are common dinosaurian traits, and some extinct species had bony armor. Although known for large size, many Mesozoic dinosaurs were human-sized or smaller, and modern birds are generally small in size. Dinosaurs today inhabit every continent, and fossils show that they had achieved global distribution by at least the
Early Jurassic epoch. Modern birds inhabit most available habitats, from terrestrial to marine, and there is evidence that some non-avian dinosaurs (such as Microraptor) could fly or at least glide, and others, such as
Distinguishing anatomical features
While recent discoveries have made it more difficult to present a universally agreed-upon list of their distinguishing features, nearly all dinosaurs discovered so far share certain modifications to the ancestral archosaurian skeleton, or are clearly descendants of older dinosaurs showing these modifications. Although some later groups of dinosaurs featured further modified versions of these traits, they are considered typical for Dinosauria; the earliest dinosaurs had them and passed them on to their descendants. Such modifications, originating in the most recent common ancestor of a certain taxonomic group, are called the
synapomorphies of such a group.
Labeled diagram of a typical archosaur skull, the skull of Dromaeosaurus
A detailed assessment of archosaur interrelations by
Sterling Nesbitt confirmed or found the following twelve unambiguous synapomorphies, some previously known:
skull, a supratemporal fossa (excavation) is present in front of the
supratemporal fenestra, the main opening in the rear skull roof
Epipophyses, obliquely backward-pointing processes on the rear top corners of the anterior (front) neck
vertebrae behind the
axis, the first two neck vertebrae
Apex of a deltopectoral crest (a projection on which the
deltopectoral muscles attach) located at or more than 30% down the length of the
humerus (upper arm bone)
Radius, a lower arm bone, shorter than 80% of humerus length
Fourth trochanter asymmetrical, with distal, lower, margin forming a steeper angle to the shaft
calcaneum, upper ankle bones, the proximal articular facet, the top connecting surface, for the
fibula occupies less than 30% of the transverse width of the element
Exoccipitals (bones at the back of the skull) do not meet along the midline on the floor of the endocranial cavity, the inner space of the braincase
In the pelvis, the proximal articular surfaces of the
ischium with the
ilium and the
pubis are separated by a large concave surface (on the upper side of the ischium a part of the open hip joint is located between the contacts with the pubic bone and the ilium)
Cnemial crest on the
tibia (protruding part of the top surface of the shinbone) arcs anterolaterally (curves to the front and the outer side)
Distinct proximodistally oriented (vertical) ridge present on the posterior face of the distal end of the tibia (the rear surface of the lower end of the shinbone)
Concave articular surface for the fibula of the calcaneum (the top surface of the calcaneum, where it touches the fibula, has a hollow profile)
Nesbitt found a number of further potential synapomorphies and discounted a number of synapomorphies previously suggested. Some of these are also present in
silesaurids, which Nesbitt recovered as a sister group to Dinosauria, including a large anterior trochanter, metatarsals II and IV of subequal length, reduced contact between ischium and pubis, the presence of a cnemial crest on the tibia and of an ascending process on the astragalus, and many others.
Hip joints and hindlimb postures of: (left to right) typical
reptiles (sprawling), dinosaurs and
mammals (erect), and
A variety of other skeletal features are shared by dinosaurs. However, because they are either common to other groups of archosaurs or were not present in all early dinosaurs, these features are not considered to be synapomorphies. For example, as
diapsids, dinosaurs ancestrally had two pairs of
Infratemporal fenestrae (openings in the skull behind the eyes), and as members of the diapsid group Archosauria, had additional openings in the
snout and lower jaw. Additionally, several characteristics once thought to be synapomorphies are now known to have appeared before dinosaurs, or were absent in the earliest dinosaurs and independently evolved by different dinosaur groups. These include an elongated
scapula, or shoulder blade; a
sacrum composed of three or more fused vertebrae (three are found in some other archosaurs, but only two are found in Herrerasaurus); and a perforate
acetabulum, or hip socket, with a hole at the center of its inside surface (closed in Saturnalia tupiniquim, for example). Another difficulty of determining distinctly dinosaurian features is that early dinosaurs and other archosaurs from the
Late Triassic epoch are often poorly known and were similar in many ways; these animals have sometimes been misidentified in the literature.
Dinosaurs stand with their hind limbs erect in a manner similar to
most modern mammals, but distinct from most other reptiles, whose limbs sprawl out to either side. This posture is due to the development of a laterally facing recess in the pelvis (usually an open socket) and a corresponding inwardly facing distinct head on the femur. Their erect posture enabled early dinosaurs to breathe easily while moving, which likely permitted stamina and activity levels that
surpassed those of "sprawling" reptiles. Erect limbs probably also helped support the
evolution of large size by reducing bending stresses on limbs. Some non-dinosaurian archosaurs, including
rauisuchians, also had erect limbs but achieved this by a "pillar-erect" configuration of the hip joint, where instead of having a projection from the femur insert on a socket on the hip, the
upper pelvic bone was rotated to form an overhanging shelf.
Scholarly descriptions of what would now be recognized as dinosaur bones first appeared in the late 17th century in England. Part of a bone, now known to have been the femur of a Megalosaurus, was recovered from a limestone quarry at
Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, in 1676. The fragment was sent to
Robert Plot, Professor of Chemistry at the
University of Oxford and first curator of the
Ashmolean Museum, who published a description in his The Natural History of Oxford-shire (1677). He correctly identified the bone as the lower extremity of the femur of a large animal, and recognized that it was too large to belong to any known species. He, therefore, concluded it to be the femur of a huge human, perhaps a
Titan or another type of giant featured in legends.Edward Lhuyd, a friend of
Sir Isaac Newton, published Lithophylacii Britannici ichnographia (1699), the first scientific treatment of what would now be recognized as a dinosaur when he described and named a sauropod
Rutellum impicatum", that had been found in Caswell, near
Between 1815 and 1824, the Rev
William Buckland, the first Reader of Geology at the University of Oxford, collected more fossilized bones of Megalosaurus and became the first person to describe a non-avian dinosaur in a
scientific journal. The second non-avian dinosaur genus to be identified, Iguanodon, was discovered in 1822 by
Mary Ann Mantell – the wife of English geologist
Gideon Mantell. Gideon Mantell recognized similarities between his fossils and the bones of modern
iguanas. He published his findings in 1825.
The study of these "great fossil lizards" soon became of great interest to European and American scientists, and in 1842 the English paleontologist Sir Richard Owen coined the term "dinosaur", using it to refer to the "distinct tribe or sub-order of Saurian Reptiles" that were then being recognized in England and around the world. The term is derived from
Ancient Greekδεινός (deinos) 'terrible, potent or fearfully great', and σαῦρος (sauros) 'lizard or reptile'. Though the taxonomic name has often been interpreted as a reference to dinosaurs' teeth, claws, and other fearsome characteristics, Owen intended it to also evoke their size and majesty. Owen recognized that the remains that had been found so far, Iguanodon, Megalosaurus and Hylaeosaurus, shared a number of distinctive features, and so decided to present them as a distinct taxonomic group. As clarified by British geologist and historian Hugh Torrens, Owen had given a presentation about fossil reptiles to the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1841, but reports of the time show that Owen did not mention the word "dinosaur", nor recognize dinosaurs as a distinct group of reptiles in his address. He only introduced the Dinosauria in the revised text version of his talk published in April of 1842. With the backing of
Prince Albert, the husband of
Queen Victoria, Owen established the
Natural History Museum, London, to display the national collection of dinosaur fossils and other biological and geological exhibits.
William Parker Foulke discovered the first known American dinosaur, in
marl pits in the small town of
Haddonfield, New Jersey. (Although fossils had been found before, their nature had not been correctly discerned.) The creature was named Hadrosaurus foulkii. It was an extremely important find: Hadrosaurus was one of the first nearly complete dinosaur skeletons found (
the first was in 1834, in
Maidstone, England), and it was clearly a bipedal creature. This was a revolutionary discovery as, until that point, most scientists had believed dinosaurs walked on four feet, like other lizards. Foulke's discoveries sparked a wave of interests in dinosaurs in the United States, known as dinosaur mania.
Dinosaur mania was exemplified by the fierce rivalry between
Edward Drinker Cope and
Othniel Charles Marsh, both of whom raced to be the first to find new dinosaurs in what came to be known as the
Bone Wars. This fight between the two scientists lasted for over 30 years, ending in 1897 when Cope died after spending his entire fortune on the dinosaur hunt. Unfortunately, many valuable dinosaur specimens were damaged or destroyed due to the pair's rough methods: for example, their diggers often used
dynamite to unearth bones. Modern paleontologists would find such methods crude and unacceptable, since blasting easily destroys fossil and stratigraphic evidence. Despite their unrefined methods, the contributions of Cope and Marsh to paleontology were vast: Marsh unearthed 86 new species of dinosaur and Cope discovered 56, a total of 142 new species. Cope's collection is now at the
American Museum of Natural History in New York City, while Marsh's is at the
Peabody Museum of Natural History at
World War II caused a pause in palaeontological research; after the war, research attention was also diverted increasingly to fossil mammals rather than dinosaurs, which were seen as sluggish and cold-blooded. At the end of the 1960s, however, the field of dinosaur research experienced a surge in activity that remains ongoing. Several seminal studies led to this activity. First,
John Ostrom discovered the bird-like
dromaeosaurid theropod Deinonychus and described it in 1969. Its anatomy indicated that it was an active predator that was likely warm-blooded, in marked contrast to the then-prevailing image of dinosaurs. Concurrently,
Robert T. Bakker published a series of studies that likewise argued for active lifestyles in dinosaurs based on anatomical and ecological evidence (see
§ Physiology), which were subsequently summarized in his 1986 book The Dinosaur Heresies.
New revelations were supported by an increase in dinosaur discoveries. Major new dinosaur discoveries have been made by paleontologists working in previously unexplored regions, including India, South America, Madagascar, Antarctica, and most significantly China. Across theropods, sauropodomorphs, and ornithischians, the number of named genera began to increase exponentially in the 1990s. As of 2008, over 30 new species of dinosaurs were named each year. At least sauropodomorphs experienced a further increase in the number of named species in the 2010s, with an average of 9.3 new species having been named each year between 2009 and 2020. As a consequence, more sauropodomorphs were named between 1990 and 2020 than in all previous years combined. These new localities also led to improvements in overall specimen quality, with new species being increasingly named not on scrappy fossils but on more complete skeletons, sometimes from multiple individuals. Better specimens also led to new species being invalidated less frequently. Asian localities have produced the most complete theropod specimens, while North American localities have produced the most complete sauropodomorph specimens.
Prior to the dinosaur renaissance, dinosaurs were mostly classified using the traditional rank-based system of
Linnaean taxonomy. The renaissance was also accompanied by the increasingly widespread application of
cladistics, a more objective method of classification based on ancestry and shared traits, which has proved tremendously useful in the study of dinosaur systematics and evolution. Cladistic analysis, among other techniques, helps to compensate for an often incomplete and fragmentary fossil record. Reference books summarizing the state of dinosaur research, such as
David B. Weishampel and colleagues' The Dinosauria, made knowledge more accessible and spurred further interest in dinosaur research. The release of the first and second editions of The Dinosauria in 1990 and 2004, and of a review paper by
Paul Sereno in 1998, were accompanied by increases in the number of published
phylogenetic trees for dinosaurs.
Dinosaur fossils are not limited to bones, but also include imprints or mineralized remains of skin coverings, organs, and other tissues. Of these, skin coverings based on
keratin proteins are most easily preserved because of their
hydrophobic molecular structure. Fossils of keratin-based skin coverings or bony skin coverings are known from most major groups of dinosaurs. Dinosaur fossils with scaly skin impressions have been found since the 19th century.
Samuel Beckles discovered a sauropod forelimb with preserved skin in 1852 that was incorrectly attributed to a crocodile; it was correctly attributed by Marsh in 1888 and subject to further study by
Reginald Hooley in 1917. Among ornithischians, in 1884 Jacob Wortman found skin impressions on the first known specimen of Edmontosaurus annectens, which were largely destroyed during the specimen's excavation. Owen and Hooley subsequently described skin impressions of Hypsilophodon and Iguanodon in 1885 and 1917. Since then, scale impressions have been most frequently found among hadrosaurids, where the impressions are known from nearly the entire body across multiple specimens.
Starting from the 1990s, major discoveries of exceptionally preserved fossils in deposits known as conservation
Lagerstätten contributed to research on dinosaur soft tissues. Chiefly among these were the rocks that produced the
Jehol (Early Cretaceous) and
Yanliao (Mid-to-Late Jurassic)
biotas of northeastern China, from which hundreds of dinosaur specimens bearing impressions of feather-like structures (both closely related to birds and otherwise, see
§ Origin of birds) have been described by
Xing Xu and colleagues. In living reptiles and mammals, pigment-storing cellular structures known as
melanosomes are partially responsible for producing colouration. Both chemical traces of
melanin and characteristically-shaped melanosomes have been reported from feathers and scales of Jehol and Yanliao dinosaurs, including both theropods and ornithischians. This has enabled multiple full-body reconstructions of
dinosaur colouration, such as for Sinosauropteryx and Psittacosaurus by Jakob Vinther and colleagues, and similar techniques have also been extended to dinosaur fossils from other localities. (However, some researchers have also suggested that fossilized melanosomes represent bacterial remains.) Stomach contents in some Jehol and Yanliao dinosaurs closely related to birds have also provided indirect indications of diet and digestive system anatomy (e.g.,
crops). More concrete evidence of internal anatomy has been reported in Scipionyx from the
Pietraroja Plattenkalk of Italy. It preserves portions of the intestines, colon, liver, muscles, and windpipe.
Concurrently, a line of work led by
Mary Higby Schweitzer,
Jack Horner, and colleagues reported various occurrences of preserved soft tissues and proteins within dinosaur bone fossils. Various mineralized structures that likely represented
red blood cells and
collagen fibres had been found by Schweitzer and others in
tyrannosaurid bones as early as 1991. However, in 2005, Schweitzer and colleagues reported that a femur of Tyrannosaurus preserved soft, flexible tissue within, including
bone matrix, and connective tissue (bone fibers) that had retained their microscopic structure. This discovery suggested that original soft tissues could be preserved over geological time. Later, in 2009, Schweitzer and colleagues reported that a Brachylophosaurus femur preserved similar microstructures, and
immunohistochemical techniques (based on
antibody binding) demonstrated the presence of proteins such as collagen,
laminin. Both specimens yielded collagen protein sequences that were viable for
molecular phylogenetic analyses, which grouped them with birds as would be expected. The extraction of fragmentary DNA has also been reported for both of these fossils, along with a specimen of Hypacrosaurus. In 2015, Sergio Bertazzo and colleagues reported the preservation of collagen fibres and red blood cells in eight Cretaceous dinosaur specimens that did not show any signs of exceptional preservation, indicating that soft tissue may be preserved more commonly than previously thought. Suggestions that these structures represent bacterial
biofilms have been rejected, but cross-contamination remains a possibility that is difficult to detect.
Less well-preserved remains of the sauropodomorphs Jaklapallisaurus and Nambalia, along with the early saurischian Alwalkeria, are respectively known fron the
Upper Maleri and
Lower Maleri Formations of India. Meanwhile, the Carnian-aged
Chañares Formation of Argentina preserves primitive, dinosaur-like ornithodirans such as Lagosuchus and Lagerpeton in
Argentina, making it another important site for understanding dinosaur evolution. These ornithodirans support the model of early dinosaurs as small, bipedal predators. Dinosaurs may have appeared as early as the
Anisian epoch of the Triassic, approximately 245 million years ago, which is the age of Nyasasaurus from the
Manda Formation of Tanzania. However, its known fossils are too fragmentary to tell if it was a dinosaur or only a close relative. The referral of the Manda Formation to the Anisian is also uncertain. Regardless, dinosaurs existed alongside non-dinosaurian ornithodirans for a period of time, with estimates ranging from 5–10 million years to 21 million years.
When dinosaurs appeared, they were not the dominant terrestrial animals. The terrestrial habitats were occupied by various types of
rhynchosaurs. Their main competitors were the
pseudosuchians, such as
ornithosuchids and rauisuchians, which were more successful than the dinosaurs. Most of these other animals became extinct in the Triassic, in one of two events. First, at about 215 million years ago, a variety of
basal archosauromorphs, including the
protorosaurs, became extinct. This was followed by the Triassic–Jurassic extinction event (about 201 million years ago), that saw the end of most of the other groups of early archosaurs, like aetosaurs, ornithosuchids,
phytosaurs, and rauisuchians. Rhynchosaurs and
dicynodonts survived (at least in some areas) at least as late as early –mid
Norian and late Norian or earliest
Rhaetianstages, respectively, and the exact date of their
extinction is uncertain. These losses left behind a land fauna of
crocodylomorphs, dinosaurs, mammals, pterosaurians, and
turtles. The first few lines of early dinosaurs
diversified through the Carnian and Norian stages of the Triassic, possibly by occupying the niches of the groups that became extinct. Also notably, there was a heightened rate of extinction during the
Carnian pluvial event.
Evolution and paleobiogeography
Pangaea in the early
Mesozoic (around 200 million years ago)
Dinosaur evolution after the Triassic followed changes in vegetation and the location of continents. In the Late Triassic and Early Jurassic, the continents were connected as the single landmass
Pangaea, and there was a worldwide dinosaur fauna mostly composed of
coelophysoid carnivores and early sauropodomorph herbivores.Gymnosperm plants (particularly
conifers), a potential food source,
radiated in the Late Triassic. Early sauropodomorphs did not have sophisticated mechanisms for processing food in the mouth, and so must have employed other means of breaking down food farther along the digestive tract. The general homogeneity of dinosaurian faunas continued into the Middle and Late Jurassic, where most localities had predators consisting of
allosauroids, and herbivores consisting of stegosaurian ornithischians and large sauropods. Examples of this include the
Morrison Formation of
North America and
Tendaguru Beds of Tanzania. Dinosaurs in China show some differences, with specialized
metriacanthosaurid theropods and unusual, long-necked sauropods like Mamenchisaurus. Ankylosaurians and ornithopods were also becoming more common, but primitive sauropodomorphs had become extinct. Conifers and
pteridophytes were the most common plants. Sauropods, like earlier sauropodomorphs, were not oral processors, but ornithischians were evolving various means of dealing with food in the mouth, including potential
cheek-like organs to keep food in the mouth, and jaw motions to grind food. Another notable evolutionary event of the Jurassic was the appearance of true birds, descended from maniraptoran coelurosaurians.
Early Cretaceous and the ongoing breakup of Pangaea, dinosaurs were becoming strongly differentiated by landmass. The earliest part of this time saw the spread of ankylosaurians,
brachiosaurids through Europe, North America, and northern
Africa. These were later supplemented or replaced in Africa by large spinosaurid and
carcharodontosaurid theropods, and
titanosaurian sauropods, also found in
South America. In
Asia, maniraptoran coelurosaurians like dromaeosaurids,
oviraptorosaurians became the common theropods, and
ankylosaurids and early ceratopsians like Psittacosaurus became important herbivores. Meanwhile,
Australia was home to a fauna of basal ankylosaurians,
hypsilophodonts, and iguanodontians. The stegosaurians appear to have gone extinct at some point in the late Early Cretaceous or early
Late Cretaceous. A major change in the Early Cretaceous, which would be amplified in the Late Cretaceous, was the evolution of
flowering plants. At the same time, several groups of dinosaurian herbivores evolved more sophisticated ways to orally process food. Ceratopsians developed a method of slicing with teeth stacked on each other in batteries, and iguanodontians refined a method of grinding with
dental batteries, taken to its extreme in hadrosaurids. Some sauropods also evolved tooth batteries, best exemplified by the rebbachisaurid Nigersaurus.
There were three general dinosaur faunas in the Late Cretaceous. In the northern continents of North America and Asia, the major theropods were tyrannosaurids and various types of smaller maniraptoran theropods, with a predominantly ornithischian herbivore assemblage of hadrosaurids, ceratopsians, ankylosaurids, and pachycephalosaurians. In the southern continents that had made up the now-splitting supercontinent
abelisaurids were the common theropods, and titanosaurian sauropods the common herbivores. Finally, in Europe, dromaeosaurids,
nodosaurid ankylosaurians, and titanosaurian sauropods were prevalent. Flowering plants were greatly radiating, with the first grasses appearing by the end of the Cretaceous. Grinding hadrosaurids and shearing ceratopsians became very diverse across North America and Asia. Theropods were also radiating as herbivores or
ornithomimosaurians becoming common.
The surviving lineages of neornithine birds, including the ancestors of modern
ducks and chickens, and a variety of
waterbirds, diversified rapidly at the beginning of the
Paleogene period, entering
ecological niches left vacant by the extinction of Mesozoic dinosaur groups such as the arboreal
hesperornithines, and even the larger terrestrial theropods (in the form of Gastornis,
mihirungs, and "
terror birds"). It is often stated that mammals out-competed the neornithines for dominance of most terrestrial niches but many of these groups co-existed with rich mammalian faunas for most of the
Cenozoic Era. Terror birds and bathornithids occupied carnivorous guilds alongside predatory mammals, and ratites are still fairly successful as mid-sized herbivores; eogruiids similarly lasted from the
Pliocene, only becoming extinct very recently after over 20 million years of co-existence with many mammal groups.
Edmontosaurus pelvis (showing ornithischian structure – left side)
Dinosaurs belong to a group known as archosaurs, which also includes modern crocodilians. Within the archosaur group, dinosaurs are differentiated most noticeably by their gait. Dinosaur legs extend directly beneath the body, whereas the legs of lizards and crocodilians sprawl out to either side.
Collectively, dinosaurs as a clade are divided into two primary branches, Saurischia and Ornithischia. Saurischia includes those taxa sharing a more recent common ancestor with birds than with Ornithischia, while Ornithischia includes all
taxa sharing a more recent common ancestor with Triceratops than with Saurischia. Anatomically, these two groups can be distinguished most noticeably by their
pelvic structure. Early saurischians—"lizard-hipped", from the
Greeksauros (σαῦρος) meaning "lizard" and ischion (ἰσχίον) meaning "hip joint"—retained the hip structure of their ancestors, with a pubis bone directed
cranially, or forward. This basic form was modified by rotating the pubis backward to varying degrees in several groups (Herrerasaurus, therizinosauroids, dromaeosaurids, and birds). Saurischia includes the theropods (exclusively bipedal and with a wide variety of diets) and sauropodomorphs (long-necked herbivores which include advanced, quadrupedal groups).
By contrast, ornithischians—"bird-hipped", from the Greek ornitheios (ὀρνίθειος) meaning "of a bird" and ischion (ἰσχίον) meaning "hip joint"—had a pelvis that superficially resembled a bird's pelvis: the pubic bone was oriented caudally (rear-pointing). Unlike birds, the ornithischian pubis also usually had an additional forward-pointing process. Ornithischia includes a variety of species that were primarily herbivores.
Despite the terms "bird hip" (Ornithischia) and "lizard hip" (Saurischia), birds are not part of Ornithischia. Birds instead belong to Saurischia, the “lizard-hipped” dinosaurs—birds evolved from earlier dinosaurs with "lizard hips".
The following is a simplified classification of dinosaur groups based on their evolutionary relationships, and those of the main dinosaur groups Theropoda, Sauropodomorpha and Ornithischia, compiled by Justin Tweet. Further details and other hypotheses of classification may be found on individual articles.
Current evidence suggests that dinosaur average size varied through the Triassic, Early Jurassic, Late Jurassic and Cretaceous. Predatory theropod dinosaurs, which occupied most terrestrial carnivore niches during the Mesozoic, most often fall into the 100 to 1000 kg (220 to 2200 lb) category when sorted by estimated weight into categories based on
order of magnitude, whereas
recent predatory carnivoran mammals peak in the 10 to 100 kg (22 to 220 lb) category. The
mode of Mesozoic dinosaur body masses is between 1 to 10 metric tons (1.1 to 11.0 short tons). This contrasts sharply with the average size of Cenozoic mammals, estimated by the
National Museum of Natural History as about 2 to 5 kg (4.4 to 11.0 lb).
The sauropods were the largest and heaviest dinosaurs. For much of the dinosaur era, the smallest sauropods were larger than anything else in their habitat, and the largest was an order of magnitude more massive than anything else that has since walked the Earth. Giant prehistoric mammals such as Paraceratherium (the largest land mammal ever) were dwarfed by the giant sauropods, and only modern whales approach or surpass them in size. There are several proposed advantages for the large size of sauropods, including protection from predation, reduction of energy use, and longevity, but it may be that the most important advantage was dietary. Large animals are more efficient at digestion than small animals, because food spends more time in their digestive systems. This also permits them to subsist on food with lower nutritive value than smaller animals. Sauropod remains are mostly found in rock formations interpreted as dry or seasonally dry, and the ability to eat large quantities of low-nutrient browse would have been advantageous in such environments.
Largest and smallest
Scientists will probably never be certain of the
largest and smallest dinosaurs to have ever existed. This is because only a tiny percentage of animals were ever fossilized and most of these remain buried in the earth. Few of the specimens that are recovered are complete skeletons, and impressions of skin and other soft tissues are rare. Rebuilding a complete skeleton by comparing the size and morphology of bones to those of similar, better-known species is an inexact art, and reconstructing the muscles and other organs of the living animal is, at best, a process of educated guesswork.
There were larger dinosaurs, but knowledge of them is based entirely on a small number of fragmentary fossils. Most of the largest herbivorous specimens on record were discovered in the 1970s or later, and include the massive Argentinosaurus, which may have weighed 80000 to 100000 kilograms (90 to 110 short tons) and reached lengths of 30 to 40 meters (98 to 131 ft); some of the longest were the 33.5-meter (110 ft) long Diplodocus hallorum (formerly Seismosaurus), the 33-to-34-meter (108 to 112 ft) long Supersaurus, and 37-meter (121 ft) long Patagotitan; and the tallest, the 18-meter (59 ft) tall Sauroposeidon, which could have reached a sixth-floor window. The heaviest and longest dinosaur may have been Maraapunisaurus, known only from a now lost partial vertebral
neural arch described in 1878. Extrapolating from the illustration of this bone, the animal may have been 58 meters (190 ft) long and weighed 122400 kg (270000 lb). However, as no further evidence of sauropods of this size has been found, and the discoverer, Cope, had made typographic errors before, it is likely to have been an extreme overestimation.
The smallest dinosaur known is the
bee hummingbird, with a length of only 5 centimeters (2.0 in) and mass of around 1.8 g (0.063 oz). The smallest known non-
avialan dinosaurs were about the size of
pigeons and were those theropods most closely related to birds. For example, Anchiornis huxleyi is currently the smallest non-avialan dinosaur described from an adult specimen, with an estimated weight of 110 g (3.9 oz) and a total skeletal length of 34 centimeters (1.12 ft). The smallest herbivorous non-avialan dinosaurs included Microceratus and Wannanosaurus, at about 60 centimeters (2.0 ft) long each.
Many modern birds are highly social, often found living in flocks. There is general agreement that some behaviors that are common in birds, as well as in
crocodiles (closest living relatives of birds), were also common among extinct dinosaur groups. Interpretations of behavior in fossil species are generally based on the pose of skeletons and their
computer simulations of their biomechanics, and comparisons with modern animals in similar ecological niches.
The first potential evidence for
flocking as a widespread behavior common to many dinosaur groups in addition to birds was the 1878 discovery of 31 Iguanodon, ornithischians that were then thought to have perished together in
Belgium, after they fell into a deep, flooded
sinkhole and drowned. Other mass-death sites have been discovered subsequently. Those, along with multiple trackways, suggest that gregarious behavior was common in many early dinosaur species. Trackways of hundreds or even thousands of herbivores indicate that duck-billed (hadrosaurids) may have moved in great herds, like the
American bison or the African
Springbok. Sauropod tracks document that these animals traveled in groups composed of several different species, at least in
Oxfordshire, England, although there is no evidence for specific herd structures. Congregating into herds may have evolved for defense, for
migratory purposes, or to provide protection for young. There is evidence that many types of slow-growing dinosaurs, including various theropods, sauropods, ankylosaurians, ornithopods, and ceratopsians, formed aggregations of immature individuals. One example is a site in
Inner Mongolia that has yielded remains of over 20 Sinornithomimus, from one to seven years old. This assemblage is interpreted as a social group that was trapped in mud. The interpretation of dinosaurs as gregarious has also extended to depicting carnivorous theropods as
pack hunters working together to bring down large prey. However, this lifestyle is uncommon among modern birds, crocodiles, and other reptiles, and the
taphonomic evidence suggesting mammal-like pack hunting in such theropods as Deinonychus and Allosaurus can also be interpreted as the results of fatal disputes between feeding animals, as is seen in many modern diapsid predators.
The crests and frills of some dinosaurs, like the
marginocephalians, theropods and
lambeosaurines, may have been too fragile to be used for active defense, and so they were likely used for sexual or aggressive displays, though little is known about dinosaur mating and
territorialism. Head wounds from bites suggest that theropods, at least, engaged in active aggressive confrontations.
From a behavioral standpoint, one of the most valuable dinosaur fossils was discovered in the
Gobi Desert in 1971. It included a Velociraptor attacking a Protoceratops, providing evidence that dinosaurs did indeed attack each other. Additional evidence for attacking live prey is the partially healed tail of an Edmontosaurus, a hadrosaurid dinosaur; the tail is damaged in such a way that shows the animal was bitten by a tyrannosaur but survived.Cannibalism amongst some species of dinosaurs was confirmed by tooth marks found in
Madagascar in 2003, involving the theropod Majungasaurus.
Comparisons between the
scleral rings of dinosaurs and modern birds and reptiles have been used to infer daily activity patterns of dinosaurs. Although it has been suggested that most dinosaurs were active during the day, these comparisons have shown that small predatory dinosaurs such as dromaeosaurids, Juravenator, and Megapnosaurus were likely
nocturnal. Large and medium-sized herbivorous and omnivorous dinosaurs such as ceratopsians, sauropodomorphs, hadrosaurids, ornithomimosaurs may have been
cathemeral, active during short intervals throughout the day, although the small ornithischian Agilisaurus was inferred to be
Based on fossil evidence from dinosaurs such as Oryctodromeus, some ornithischian species seem to have led a partially
fossorial (burrowing) lifestyle. Many modern birds are
arboreal (tree climbing), and this was also true of many Mesozoic birds, especially the enantiornithines. While some early bird-like species may have already been arboreal as well (including dromaeosaurids) such as Microraptor) most non-avialan dinosaurs seem to have relied on land-based locomotion. A good understanding of how dinosaurs moved on the ground is key to models of dinosaur behavior; the science of biomechanics, pioneered by
Robert McNeill Alexander, has provided significant insight in this area. For example, studies of the forces exerted by muscles and gravity on dinosaurs' skeletal structure have investigated how fast dinosaurs could run, whether
diplodocids could create
sonic booms via
whip-like tail snapping, and whether sauropods could float.
Modern birds are known to
communicate using visual and auditory signals, and the wide diversity of visual display structures among fossil dinosaur groups, such as horns, frills, crests, sails, and feathers, suggests that visual communication has always been important in dinosaur biology. Reconstruction of the plumage color of Anchiornis, suggest the importance of color in visual communication in non-avian dinosaurs.
The evolution of dinosaur vocalization is less certain. The earliest remains of the avian
syrinx was found in a specimen of the duck-like Vegavis iaai dated 69 –66 million years ago, and this organ is unlikely to have existed in non-avian dinosaurs. Paleontologist Phil Senter has suggested that non-avian dinosaurs relied mostly on visual displays and possibly non-vocal acoustic sounds like hissing, jaw grinding or clapping, splashing and wing beating (possible in winged maniraptoran dinosaurs). He states they were unlikely to have been capable of vocalizing since their closest relatives, crocodilians and birds, use different means to vocalize, the
larynx and syrinx respectively, suggesting they evolved independently and their common ancestor was mute. Other researchers have countered that vocalizations also exist in turtles, the closest relatives of archosaurs, suggesting that the trait is ancestral to their lineage. In addition, vocal communication in dinosaurs is indicated by the development of advanced hearing in nearly all major groups. Hence the syrinx may have supplemented and then replaced the larynx as a vocal organ rather than there being a "quiet period" in bird evolution.
In 2023, a fossilized larynx was described from a specimen of the ankylosaurid Pinacosaurus. The structure was composed of
arytenoid cartilages, similar to those of non-avian reptiles. However, the mobile cricoid-arytenoid joint and long arytenoid cartilages would have allowed for air-flow control similar to that of birds, and thus could have made bird-like vocalizations. In addition, the cartilages were
ossified, implying that laryngeal ossification is a feature of some non-avian dinosaurs. A 2016 study concludes that some dinosaurs may have produced closed mouth vocalizations like cooing, hooting and booming. These occur in both reptiles and birds and involve inflating the esophagus or tracheal pouches. Such vocalizations evolved independently in extant archosaurs numerous times, following increases in body size. The crests of the
Lambeosaurini and nasal chambers of ankylosaurids have been suggested to have functioned in
All dinosaurs laid
amniotic eggs. Dinosaur eggs were usually laid in a nest. Most species create somewhat elaborate nests which can be cups, domes, plates, beds scrapes, mounds, or burrows. Some species of modern bird have no nests; the cliff-nesting
common guillemot lays its eggs on bare rock, and male
emperor penguins keep eggs between their body and feet. Primitive birds and many non-avialan dinosaurs often lay eggs in communal nests, with males primarily incubating the eggs. While modern birds have only one functional
oviduct and lay one egg at a time, more primitive birds and dinosaurs had two oviducts, like crocodiles. Some non-avialan dinosaurs, such as Troodon, exhibited iterative laying, where the adult might lay a pair of eggs every one or two days, and then ensured simultaneous hatching by delaying
brooding until all eggs were laid.
When laying eggs, females grow a special type of bone between the hard outer bone and the
marrow of their limbs. This medullary bone, which is rich in
calcium, is used to make eggshells. A discovery of features in a Tyrannosaurus skeleton provided evidence of medullary bone in extinct dinosaurs and, for the first time, allowed paleontologists to establish the sex of a fossil dinosaur specimen. Further research has found medullary bone in the carnosaur Allosaurus and the ornithopod Tenontosaurus. Because the line of dinosaurs that includes Allosaurus and Tyrannosaurus diverged from the line that led to Tenontosaurus very early in the evolution of dinosaurs, this suggests that the production of medullary tissue is a general characteristic of all dinosaurs.
Another widespread trait among modern birds (but see below in regards to fossil groups and extant
megapodes) is parental care for young after hatching.
Jack Horner's 1978 discovery of a Maiasaura ("good mother lizard") nesting ground in Montana demonstrated that parental care continued long after birth among ornithopods. A specimen of the
oviraptoridCitipati osmolskae was discovered in a
chicken-like brooding position in 1993, which may indicate that they had begun using an insulating layer of feathers to keep the eggs warm. An embryo of the basal sauropodomorph Massospondylus was found without teeth, indicating that some parental care was required to feed the young dinosaurs. Trackways have also confirmed parental behavior among ornithopods from the
Isle of Skye in northwestern
However, there is ample evidence of
superprecociality among many dinosaur species, particularly theropods. For instance, non-
ornithuromorph birds have been abundantly demonstrated to have had slow growth rates,
megapode-like egg burying behavior and the ability to fly soon after birth. Both Tyrannosaurus and Troodon had juveniles with clear superprecociality and likely occupying different ecological niches than the adults. Superprecociality has been inferred for sauropods.
Genital structures are unlikely to fossilize as they lack scales that may allow preservation via pigmentation or residual calcium phosphate salts. In 2021, the best preserved specimen of a dinosaur's
cloacal vent exterior was described for Psittacosaurus, demonstrating lateral swellings similar to crocodylian musk glands used in social displays by both sexes and pigmented regions which could also reflect a signalling function. However, this specimen on its own does not offer enough information to determine whether this dinosaur had sexual signalling functions; it only supports the possibility. Cloacal visual signalling can occur in either males or females in living birds, making it unlikely to be useful to determine sex for extinct dinosaurs.
Because both modern crocodilians and birds have four-chambered hearts (albeit modified in crocodilians), it is likely that this is a trait shared by all archosaurs, including all dinosaurs. While all modern birds have high metabolisms and are
endothermic ("warm-blooded"), a vigorous debate has been ongoing since the 1960s regarding how far back in the dinosaur lineage this trait extended. Various researchers have supported dinosaurs as being endothermic,
ectothermic ("cold-blooded"), or somewhere in between. An emerging consensus among researchers is that, while different lineages of dinosaurs would have had different metabolisms, most of them had higher metabolic rates than other reptiles but lower than living birds and mammals, which is termed
mesothermy by some. Evidence from crocodiles and their extinct relatives suggests that such elevated metabolisms could have developed in the earliest archosaurs, which were the common ancestors of dinosaurs and crocodiles.
After non-avian dinosaurs were discovered, paleontologists first posited that they were ectothermic. This was used to imply that the ancient dinosaurs were relatively slow, sluggish organisms, even though many modern reptiles are fast and light-footed despite relying on external sources of heat to regulate their body temperature. The idea of dinosaurs as ectothermic remained a prevalent view until
Robert T. Bakker, an early proponent of dinosaur endothermy, published an influential paper on the topic in 1968. Bakker specifically used anatomical and ecological evidence to argue that sauropods, which had hitherto been depicted as sprawling aquatic animals with their tails dragging on the ground, were endotherms that lived vigorous, terrestrial lives. In 1972, Bakker expanded on his arguments based on energy requirements and predator-prey ratios. This was one of the seminal results that led to the dinosaur renaissance.
One of the greatest contributions to the modern understanding of dinosaur physiology has been
paleohistology, the study of microscopic tissue structure in dinosaurs. From the 1960s forward,
Armand de Ricqlès suggested that the presence of fibrolamellar bone—bony tissue with an irregular, fibrous texture and filled with blood vessels—was indicative of consistently fast growth and therefore endothermy. Fibrolamellar bone was common in both dinosaurs and pterosaurs, though not universally present. This has led to a significant body of work in reconstructing
growth curves and modeling the evolution of growth rates across various dinosaur lineages, which has suggested overall that dinosaurs grew faster than living reptiles. Other lines of evidence suggesting endothermy include the presence of feathers and other types of body coverings in many lineages (see
§ Feathers); more consistent ratios of the isotope
oxygen-18 in bony tissue compared to ectotherms, particularly as latitude and thus air temperature varied, which suggests stable internal temperatures (although these ratios can be altered during fossilization); and the discovery of
polar dinosaurs, which lived in Australia, Antarctica, and Alaska when these places would have had cool, temperate climates.
In saurischian dinosaurs, higher metabolisms were supported by the evolution of the avian respiratory system, characterized by an extensive system of
air sacs that extended the lungs and invaded many of the bones in the skeleton, making them hollow. Such respiratory systems, which may have appeared in the earliest saurischians, would have provided them with more oxygen compared to a mammal of similar size, while also having a larger resting
tidal volume and requiring a lower breathing frequency, which would have allowed them to sustain higher activity levels. The rapid airflow would also have been an effective cooling mechanism, which in conjunction with a lower metabolic rate would have prevented large sauropods from overheating. These traits may have enabled sauropods to grow quickly to gigantic sizes. Sauropods may also have benefitted from their size—their small surface area to volume ratio meant that they would have been able to thermoregulate more easily, a phenomenon termed
Like other reptiles, dinosaurs are primarily
uricotelic, that is, their
kidneys extract nitrogenous wastes from their bloodstream and excrete it as
uric acid instead of
ammonia via the ureters into the intestine. This would have helped them to conserve water. In most living species, uric acid is excreted along with feces as a semisolid waste. However, at least some modern birds (such as
hummingbirds) can be facultatively
ammonotelic, excreting most of the nitrogenous wastes as ammonia. This material, as well as the output of the intestines, emerges from the
cloaca. In addition, many species regurgitate
pellets, and fossil pellets are known as early as the Jurassic from Anchiornis.
The size and shape of the brain can be partly reconstructed based on the surrounding bones. In 1896, Marsh calculated ratios between brain weight and body weight of seven species of dinosaurs, showing that the brain of dinosaurs was proportionally smaller than in today's crocodiles, and that the brain of Stegosaurus was smaller than in any living land vertebrate. This contributed to the widespread public notion of dinosaurs as being sluggish and extraordinarily stupid. Harry Jerison, in 1973, showed that proportionally smaller brains are expected at larger body sizes, and that brain size in dinosaurs was not smaller than expected when compared to living reptiles. Later research showed that relative brain size progressively increased during the evolution of theropods, with the highest intelligence – comparable to that of modern birds – calculated for the troodontid Troodon.
The possibility that dinosaurs were the ancestors of birds was first suggested in 1868 by
Thomas Henry Huxley. After the work of
Gerhard Heilmann in the early 20th century, the
theory of birds as dinosaur descendants was abandoned in favor of the idea of them being descendants of generalized
thecodonts, with the key piece of evidence being the supposed lack of
clavicles in dinosaurs. However, as later discoveries showed, clavicles (or a single fused
wishbone, which derived from separate clavicles) were not actually absent; they had been found as early as 1924 in Oviraptor, but misidentified as an
interclavicle. In the 1970s, Ostrom revived the dinosaur–bird theory, which gained momentum in the coming decades with the advent of cladistic analysis, and a great increase in the discovery of small theropods and early birds. Of particular note have been the fossils of the Jehol Biota, where a variety of theropods and early birds have been found, often with feathers of some type. Birds share over a hundred distinct anatomical features with theropod dinosaurs, which are now generally accepted to have been their closest ancient relatives. They are most closely allied with maniraptoran coelurosaurs. A minority of scientists, most notably
Alan Feduccia and
Larry Martin, have proposed other evolutionary paths, including revised versions of Heilmann's basal archosaur proposal, or that maniraptoran theropods are the ancestors of birds but themselves are not dinosaurs, only
convergent with dinosaurs.
Feathers are one of the most recognizable characteristics of modern birds, and a trait that was also shared by several non-avian dinosaurs. Based on the current distribution of fossil evidence, it appears that feathers were an ancestral dinosaurian trait, though one that may have been selectively lost in some species. Direct fossil evidence of feathers or feather-like structures has been discovered in a diverse array of species in many non-avian dinosaur groups, both among saurischians and ornithischians. Simple, branched, feather-like structures are known from
neornithischians, and theropods, and primitive ceratopsians. Evidence for true, vaned feathers similar to the flight feathers of modern birds has been found only in the theropod subgroup Maniraptora, which includes oviraptorosaurs, troodontids, dromaeosaurids, and birds. Feather-like structures known as
pycnofibres have also been found in pterosaurs.
However, researchers do not agree regarding whether these structures share a common origin between lineages (i.e., they are
homologous), or if they were the result of widespread experimentation with skin coverings among ornithodirans. If the former is the case, filaments may have been common in the ornithodiran lineage and evolved before the appearance of dinosaurs themselves. Research into the genetics of
American alligators has revealed that crocodylian
scutes do possess feather-keratins during embryonic development, but these keratins are not expressed by the animals before hatching. The description of feathered dinosaurs has not been without controversy in general; perhaps the most vocal critics have been Alan Feduccia and Theagarten Lingham-Soliar, who have proposed that some purported feather-like fossils are the result of the decomposition of collagenous fiber that underlaid the dinosaurs' skin, and that maniraptoran dinosaurs with vaned feathers were not actually dinosaurs, but convergent with dinosaurs. However, their views have for the most part not been accepted by other researchers, to the point that the scientific nature of Feduccia's proposals has been questioned.
Archaeopteryx was the first fossil found that revealed a potential connection between dinosaurs and birds. It is considered a
transitional fossil, in that it displays features of both groups. Brought to light just two years after
Charles Darwin's seminal On the Origin of Species (1859), its discovery spurred the nascent debate between proponents of
evolutionary biology and
creationism. This early bird is so dinosaur-like that, without a clear impression of feathers in the surrounding rock, at least one specimen was mistaken for the small theropod Compsognathus. Since the 1990s, a number of additional feathered dinosaurs have been found, providing even stronger evidence of the close relationship between dinosaurs and modern birds. Many of these specimens were unearthed in the
lagerstätten of the Jehol Biota. If feather-like structures were indeed widely present among non-avian dinosaurs, the lack of abundant fossil evidence for them may be due to the fact that delicate features like skin and feathers are seldom preserved by fossilization and thus often absent from the fossil record.
Because feathers are often associated with birds, feathered dinosaurs are often touted as the missing link between birds and dinosaurs. However, the multiple skeletal features also shared by the two groups represent another important line of evidence for paleontologists. Areas of the skeleton with important similarities include the neck, pubis,
carpal), arm and
pectoral girdle, furcula (wishbone), and
breast bone. Comparison of bird and dinosaur skeletons through cladistic analysis strengthens the case for the link.
Large meat-eating dinosaurs had a complex system of air sacs similar to those found in modern birds, according to a 2005 investigation led by Patrick M. O'Connor. The lungs of theropod dinosaurs (carnivores that walked on two legs and had bird-like feet) likely pumped air into hollow sacs in their skeletons, as is the case in birds. "What was once formally considered unique to birds was present in some form in the ancestors of birds", O'Connor said. In 2008, scientists described Aerosteon riocoloradensis, the skeleton of which supplies the strongest evidence to date of a dinosaur with a bird-like breathing system.
CT scanning of Aerosteon's fossil bones revealed evidence for the existence of air sacs within the animal's body cavity.
Fossils of the troodonts Mei and Sinornithoides demonstrate that some dinosaurs slept with their heads tucked under their arms. This behavior, which may have helped to keep the head warm, is also characteristic of modern birds. Several
deinonychosaur and oviraptorosaur specimens have also been found preserved on top of their nests, likely brooding in a bird-like manner. The ratio between egg volume and body mass of adults among these dinosaurs suggest that the eggs were primarily brooded by the male, and that the young were highly precocial, similar to many modern ground-dwelling birds.
Some dinosaurs are known to have used
gizzard stones like modern birds. These stones are swallowed by animals to aid digestion and break down food and hard fibers once they enter the stomach. When found in association with fossils, gizzard stones are called gastroliths.
All non-avian dinosaurs and most lineages of birds became extinct in a
mass extinction event, called the
Cretaceous–Paleogene (K-Pg) extinction event, at the end of the Cretaceous period. Above the
Cretaceous–Paleogene boundary, which has been dated to 66.038 ± 0.025 million years ago, fossils of non-avian dinosaurs disappear abruptly; the absence of dinosaur fossils was historically used to assign rocks to the ensuing Cenozoic. The nature of the event that caused this mass extinction has been extensively studied since the 1970s, leading to the development of two mechanisms that are thought to have played major roles: an extraterrestrial
impact event in the
Yucatán Peninsula, along with
flood basalt volcanism in India. However, the specific mechanisms of the extinction event and the extent of its effects on dinosaurs are still areas of ongoing research. Alongside dinosaurs, many other groups of animals became extinct: pterosaurs, marine reptiles such as mosasaurs and plesiosaurs, several groups of mammals,
bivalves), and various groups of marine plankton. In all, approximately 47% of genera and 76% of species on Earth became extinct during the K-Pg extinction event. The relatively large size of most dinosaurs and the low diversity of small-bodied dinosaur species at the end of the Cretaceous may have contributed to their extinction; the extinction of the bird lineages that did not survive may also have been caused by a dependence on forest habitats or a lack of adaptations to
eating seeds for survival.
Just before the K-Pg extinction event, the number of non-avian dinosaur species that existed globally has been estimated at between 628 and 1078. It remains uncertain whether the diversity of dinosaurs was in gradual decline before the K-Pg extinction event, or whether dinosaurs were actually thriving prior to the extinction. Rock formations from the
Maastrichtian epoch, which directly preceded the extinction, have been found to have lower diversity than the preceding
Campanian epoch, which led to the prevailing view of a long-term decline in diversity. However, these comparisons did not account either for varying preservation potential between rock units or for different extents of exploration and excavation. In 1984,
Dale Russell carried out an analysis to account for these biases, and found no evidence of a decline; another analysis by David Fastovsky and colleagues in 2004 even showed that dinosaur diversity continually increased until the extinction, but this analysis has been rebutted. Since then, different approaches based on statistics and mathematical models have variously supported either a sudden extinction or a gradual decline. End-Cretaceous trends in diversity may have varied between dinosaur lineages: it has been suggested that sauropods were not in decline, while ornithischians and theropods were in decline.
bolide impact hypothesis, first brought to wide attention in 1980 by
Luis Alvarez, and colleagues, attributes the K-Pg extinction event to a
bolide (extraterrestrial projectile) impact. Alvarez and colleagues proposed that a sudden increase in
iridium levels, recorded around the world in rock deposits at the Cretaceous–Paleogene boundary, was direct evidence of the impact.Shocked quartz, indicative of a strong shockwave emanating from an impact, was also found worldwide. The actual impact site remained elusive until a
crater measuring 180 km (110 mi) wide was discovered in the Yucatán Peninsula of southeastern
Mexico, and was publicized in a 1991 paper by
Alan Hildebrand and colleagues. Now, the bulk of the evidence suggests that a bolide 5 to 15 kilometers (3 to 9+1⁄2 miles) wide impacted the Yucatán Peninsula 66 million years ago, forming this crater and creating a "kill mechanism" that triggered the extinction event.
Within hours, the Chicxulub impact would have created immediate effects such as earthquakes, tsunamis, and a global firestorm that likely killed unsheltered animals and started wildfires. However, it would also have had longer-term consequences for the environment. Within days,
sulphateaerosols released from rocks at the impact site would have contributed to
acid rain and
ocean acidification.Soot aerosols are thought to have spread around the world over the ensuing months and years; they would have cooled the surface of the Earth by reflecting
thermal radiation, and greatly slowed
photosynthesis by blocking out sunlight, thus creating an
impact winter. (This role was ascribed to sulphate aerosols until experiments demonstrated otherwise.) The cessation of photosynthesis would have led to the collapse of
food webs depending on leafy plants, which included all dinosaurs save for grain-eating birds.
At the time of the K-Pg extinction, the
Deccan Traps flood basalts of India were actively erupting. The eruptions can be separated into three phases around the K-Pg boundary, two prior to the boundary and one after. The second phase, which occurred very close to the boundary, would have extruded 70 to 80% of the volume of these eruptions in intermittent pulses that occurred around 100,000 years apart.Greenhouse gases such as
carbon dioxide and
sulphur dioxide would have been released by this volcanic activity, resulting in
climate change through temperature perturbations of roughly 3 °C (5.4 °F) but possibly as high as 7 °C (13 °F). Like the Chicxulub impact, the eruptions may also have released sulphate aerosols, which would have caused acid rain and global cooling. However, due to large error margins in the dating of the eruptions, the role of the Deccan Traps in the K-Pg extinction remains unclear.
Before 2000, arguments that the Deccan Traps eruptions—as opposed to the Chicxulub impact—caused the extinction were usually linked to the view that the extinction was gradual. Prior to the discovery of the Chicxulub crater, the Deccan Traps were used to explain the global iridium layer; even after the crater's discovery, the impact was still thought to only have had a regional, not global, effect on the extinction event. In response, Luis Alvarez rejected volcanic activity as an explanation for the iridium layer and the extinction as a whole. Since then, however, most researchers have adopted a more moderate position, which identifies the Chicxulub impact as the primary progenitor of the extinction while also recognizing that the Deccan Traps may also have played a role. Walter Alvarez himself has acknowledged that the Deccan Traps and other ecological factors may have contributed to the extinctions in addition to the Chicxulub impact. Some estimates have placed the start of the second phase in the Deccan Traps eruptions within 50,000 years after the Chicxulub impact. Combined with mathematical modelling of the
seismic waves that would have been generated by the impact, this has led to the suggestion that the Chicxulub impact may have triggered these eruptions by increasing the permeability of the
mantle plume underlying the Deccan Traps.
Whether the Deccan Traps were a major cause of the extinction, on par with the Chicxulub impact, remains uncertain. Proponents consider the climatic impact of the sulphur dioxide released to have been on par with the Chicxulub impact, and also note the role of flood basalt volcanism in other mass extinctions like the
Permian-Triassic extinction event. They consider the Chicxulub impact to have worsened the ongoing climate change caused by the eruptions. Meanwhile, detractors point out the sudden nature of the extinction and that other pulses in Deccan Traps activity of comparable magnitude did not appear to have caused extinctions. They also contend that the causes of different mass extinctions should be assessed separately. In 2020, Alfio Chiarenza and colleagues suggested that the Deccan Traps may even have had the opposite effect: they suggested that the long-term warming caused by its carbon dioxide emissions may have dampened the impact winter from the Chicxulub impact.
Possible Paleocene survivors
Non-avian dinosaur remains have occasionally been found above the K-Pg boundary. In 2000,
Spencer Lucas and colleagues reported the discovery of a single hadrosaur right femur in the
San Juan Basin of
New Mexico, and described it as evidence of Paleocene dinosaurs. The rock unit in which the bone was discovered has been dated to the early
Paleocene epoch, approximately 64.8 million years ago. If the bone was not
re-deposited by weathering action, it would provide evidence that some dinosaur populations may have survived at least half a million years into the Cenozoic. Other evidence includes the presence of dinosaur remains in the Hell Creek Formation up to 1.3 m (4.3 ft) above the Cretaceous–Paleogene boundary, representing 40,000 years of elapsed time. This has been used to support the view that the K-Pg extinction was gradual. However, these supposed Paleocene dinosaurs are considered by many other researchers to be
reworked, that is, washed out of their original locations and then re-buried in younger sediments. The age estimates have also been considered unreliable.
By human standards, dinosaurs were creatures of fantastic appearance and often enormous size. As such, they have captured the popular imagination and become an enduring part of human culture. The entry of the word "dinosaur" into the common
vernacular reflects the animals' cultural importance: in English, "dinosaur" is commonly used to describe anything that is impractically large, obsolete, or bound for extinction.
Public enthusiasm for dinosaurs first developed in
Victorian England, where in 1854, three decades after the first scientific descriptions of dinosaur remains, a menagerie of lifelike
dinosaur sculptures was unveiled in
Crystal Palace Park. The Crystal Palace dinosaurs proved so popular that a strong market in smaller replicas soon developed. In subsequent decades, dinosaur exhibits opened at parks and
museums around the world, ensuring that successive generations would be introduced to the animals in an immersive and exciting way. The enduring popularity of dinosaurs, in its turn, has resulted in significant public funding for dinosaur science, and has frequently spurred new discoveries. In the United States, for example, the competition between museums for public attention led directly to the Bone Wars of the 1880s and 1890s, during which a pair of feuding paleontologists made enormous scientific contributions.
^Dinosaurs (including birds) are members of the
natural groupReptilia. Their biology does not precisely correspond to the antiquated
class Reptilia of
Linnaean taxonomy, consisting of
cold-bloodedamniotes without fur or feathers. As Linnean taxonomy was formulated for modern animals prior to the study of evolution and paleontology, it fails to account for extinct animals with intermediate traits between traditional classes.
Sarjeant, William A.S., ed. (1995). Vertebrate Fossils and the Evolution of Scientific Concepts: Writings in Tribute to Beverly Halstead, by Some of His Many Friends. Modern Geology. Amsterdam: Gordon and Breach Publishers.
OCLC34672546. "Reprint of papers published in a special volume of Modern geology [v. 18 (Halstead memorial volume), 1993], with five additional contributions.--Pref."
^Matthew G. Baron; Megan E. Williams (2018). "A re-evaluation of the enigmatic dinosauriform Caseosaurus crosbyensis from the Late Triassic of Texas, USA and its implications for early dinosaur evolution". Acta Palaeontologica Polonica. 63.
^Andrea Cau (2018). "The assembly of the avian body plan: a 160-million-year long process" (PDF). Bollettino della Società Paleontologica Italiana. 57 (1): 1–25.
abOwen 1842, p.
103: "The combination of such characters ... will, it is presumed, be deemed sufficient ground for establishing a distinct tribe or sub-order of Saurian Reptiles, for which I would propose the name of Dinosauria*. (*Gr. δεινός, fearfully great; σαύρος, a lizard. ... )
^Osborn, H.F. (1912). "Integument of the iguanodont dinosaur Trachodon". Memoirs of the American Museum of Natural History. 1: 33–54.
^Bell, P.R. (2014). "A review of hadrosaur skin impressions". In Eberth, D.; Evans, D. (eds.). The Hadrosaurs: Proceedings of the International Hadrosaur Symposium. Bloomington: Princeton University Press. pp. 572–590.
^Zhou, Z.-H.; Wang, Y. (2017). "Vertebrate assemblages of the Jurassic Yanliao Biota and the Early Cretaceous Jehol Biota: Comparisons and implications". Palaeoworld. 26 (2): 241–252.
^Zhou, Z. (2014). "The Jehol Biota, an Early Cretaceous terrestrial Lagerstätte: new discoveries and implications". National Science Review. 1 (4): 543–559.
^O'Connor, J.K.; Zhou, Z. (2019). "The evolution of the modern avian digestive system: insights from paravian fossils from the Yanliao and Jehol biotas". Palaeontology. 63 (1): 13–27.
^Nesbitt, Sterling J; Sues, Hans-Dieter (2021). "The osteology of the early-diverging dinosaur Daemonosaurus chauliodus (Archosauria: Dinosauria) from the Coelophysis Quarry (Triassic: Rhaetian) of New Mexico and its relationships to other early dinosaurs". Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society. 191 (1): 150–179.
^Novas, F.E.; Ezcurra, M.D.; Chatterjee, S.; Kutty, T.S. (2011). "New dinosaur species from the Upper Triassic Upper Maleri and Lower Dharmaram formations of central India". Earth and Environmental Science Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. 101 (3–4): 333–349.
^Dodson & Gingerich 1993, pp.
167–199, "On the rareness of big, fierce animals: speculations about the body sizes, population densities, and geographic ranges of predatory mammals and large carnivorous dinosaurs" by James O. Farlow.
^Yans, Johan; Dejax, Jean; Pons, Denise; et al. (January–February 2005). "Implications paléontologiques et géodynamiques de la datation palynologique des sédiments à faciès wealdien de Bernissart (bassin de Mons, Belgique)" [Palaeontological and geodynamical implications of the palynological dating of the wealden facies sediments of Bernissart (Mons Basin, Belgium)]. Comptes Rendus Palevol (in French). Amsterdam: Elsevier of behalf of the French Academy of Sciences. 4 (1–2): 135–150.
^Maxwell, W. Desmond;
Ostrom, John H. (1995). "Taphonomy and paleobiological implications of Tenontosaurus–Deinonychus associations". Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. Milton Park, Oxfordshire: Taylor & Francis for the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology. 15 (4): 707–712.
^De Ricqlès, A. (1980). "Tissue structures of dinosaur bone, functional significance and possible relation to dinosaur physiology". In Thomas, R.D.K.; Olson, E.C. (eds.). A Cold Look at the Warm-Blooded Dinosaurs. New York: American Association for the Advancement of Science. pp. 103–139.
^For examples of this work conducted on different dinosaur lineages, see
Erickson, G.M.; Tumanova, T.A. (2000). "Growth curve of Psittacosaurus mongoliensis Osborn (Ceratopsia: Psittacosauridae) inferred from long bone histology". Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society. 130 (4): 551–566.
Horner, J.R.; de Ricqles, A.; Padian, K.; Scheetz, R.D. (2009). "Comparative long bone histology and growth of the "hypsilophodontid" dinosaurs Orodromeus makelai, Dryosaurus altus, and Tenontosaurus tillettii (Ornithischia: Euornithopoda)". Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. 29 (3): 734–747.
Woodward, H.; Freedman Fowler, E.; Farlow, J.; Horner, J. (2015). "Maiasaura, a model organism for extinct vertebrate population biology: A large sample statistical assessment of growth dynamics and survivorship". Paleobiology. 41 (4): 503–527.
^O'Connor, P.M. (2009). "Evolution of archosaurian body plans: skeletal adaptations of an air‐sac‐based breathing apparatus in birds and other archosaurs". Journal of Experimental Zoology Part A: Ecological Genetics and Physiology. 311 (8): 629–646.
^Perry, S.F.; Christian, A.; Breuer, T.; Pajor, N.; Codd, J.R. (2009). "Implications of an avian‐style respiratory system for gigantism in sauropod dinosaurs". Journal of Experimental Zoology Part A: Ecological Genetics and Physiology. 311 (8): 600–610.
^Alibardi, Lorenzo; Knapp, Loren W.; Sawyer, Roger H. (2006). "Beta-keratin localization in developing alligator scales and feathers in relation to the development and evolution of feathers". Journal of Submicroscopic Cytology and Pathology.
Siena: Nuova Immagine Editrice. 38 (2–3): 175–192.
^Field, D.J.; Bercovici, A.; Berv, J.S.; Dunn, R.; Fastovsky, D.E.; Lyson, T.R.; Vajda, V.; Gauthier, J.A. (2018). "Early evolution of modern birds structured by global forest collapse at the end-Cretaceous mass extinction". Current Biology. 28 (11): 1825–1831.
^Upchurch, P.; Mannion, P.D.; Benson, R.B.; Butler, R.J.; Carrano, M.T. (2011). "Geological and anthropogenic controls on the sampling of the terrestrial fossil record: a case study from the Dinosauria". Geological Society, London, Special Publications. 358 (1): 209–240.
^Kring, D. A. (2007). "The Chicxulub impact event and its environmental consequences at the Cretaceous–Tertiary boundary". Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology. 255 (1–2): 4–21.
^Matsui, T.; Imamura, F.; Tajika, E.; Nakano, Y.; Fujisawa, Y. (2002). "Generation and propagation of a tsunami from the Cretaceous-Tertiary impact event". Geological Society of America Special Papers. 356: 69–78.
^Self, S.; Widdowson, M.; Thordarson, T.; Jay, A.E. (2006). "Volatile fluxes during flood basalt eruptions and potential effects on the global environment: A Deccan perspective". Earth and Planetary Science Letters. 248 (1–2): 518–532.
^Tobin, T.S.; Bitz, C.M.; Archer, D. (2017). "Modeling climatic effects of carbon dioxide emissions from Deccan Traps volcanic eruptions around the Cretaceous–Paleogene boundary". Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology. 478: 139–148.
^Khazins, V.; Shuvalov, V. (2019). "Chicxulub Impact as a Trigger of One of Deccan Volcanism Phases: Threshold of Seismic Energy Density". In Kocharyan, G.; Lyakhov, A. (eds.). Trigger Effects in Geosystems. Springer Proceedings in Earth and Environmental Sciences. Cham: Springer. pp. 523–530.
^Keller, G. (2014). "Deccan volcanism, the Chicxulub impact, and the end-Cretaceous mass extinction: Coincidence? Cause and effect". Geological Society of America Special Papers. 505: 57–89.
^Currie & Padian 1997, pp. 347–350, "History of Dinosaur Discoveries: First Golden Period" by Brent H. Breithaupt.
^Dickens 1853, p.
1, chpt. I: "London. Michaelmas Term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln's Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets, as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill."