Sunday, March 7, 2010

Dinosaurs - Rock Star Legends?

It's funny how many people love dinosaurs. So many dinosaurs used to roam the earth, yet most of our knowledge is based on relatively few intact fossil specimens. And out of the thousands of species that roamed the Earth, perhaps a handful are commonly recognized with even less receiving legitimate rock star status. But ask any of those dino-fans if they'd want a pet iguana and they'd probably balk at the thought. Or ask them if they'd want to ride an elephant, which would be similar in size to some medium-sized dinosaurs, and maybe half might turn the offer down.

Dinosaurs are very fortunate, welcoming a reputation that is perhaps the result of misguided admiration. Dinosaurs are cool, but lizards, or birds depending on your belief of evolutionary theory, are just not as interesting (even though they are pretty interesting). Because we don't have any dinosaurs living among us today, we are content to create an idealized image of humongous beasts, larger than life, that ruled over the world. It is surprising to note how little we really know about dinosaurs.

It was only decades ago that scientists believed Tyrannosaurus rex walked upright and were hunters. The current belief now is that they traveled more horizontally, with their tail as a ballast, and that they were scavengers, not hunters. Popular belief also held that dinosaurs were scaly like lizards, whereas recent findings suggest that T. rexes were born with feathers, or that they had feathers throughout their adult life. Controversy even surrounds the Brontosaurus, as it is now simply known as Apatosaurus, the Brontosaurus not showing enough distinguishing characteristics to warrant a whole new species. However much of this knowledge is perhaps not mainstream, partially because there are people out there who don't want to believe it.

So despite what we know, or perhaps don't know, dinosaurs still garner more affection over similarly structured creatures that live today because of that mythos in which we choose to believe. And stuffed animal dinosaurs and anthropomorphized dinosaurs don't help the situation as such depictions present dinosaurs as things they most certainly not: soft, cuddly, intelligent, cool, warring alien dudes. Well cool maybe, but definitely not the rest of those things. The really thing might even be kind of a let down. I'm pretty sure a kid would be pretty unsatisfied if you offered him a real dinosaur only to hand him compsognathus. I know I would be.

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