STL Science Center

STL Science Center

12 June 2015

The Attraction of Dinosaurs

Now that Jurassic World is out in theaters, we really should stop and ask ourselves, what is it that the public finds so endearing about dinosaurs? The size of dinosaurs is a clear option, as most people enjoy the site of animals that are far larger than seems practical for life. Elephants and whales are clear examples of this type of animal. Dinosaurs are even bigger (the ones people love the most anyway), maybe making that one of the most important factors that there is in determining our love of dinosaurs. I think it is more important for the second more obvious idea that governs our love of dinosaurs to exist. That idea is that we love dinosaurs not because of their sizes, but because they are mysterious animals that we see in snippets of time. Those short time captures are usually death events, but occasionally the death event itself is so rapid it actually turns out to be a portrait of the life history of the dinosaur. These are invaluable to us as the fossils in the death throes, maybe even more important. When we are truly lucky those life portraits are not only well preserved nesting dinosaurs or fighting dinosaurs, but they can even end up being mummified to the point that their soft tissues are still present in some form of quality.

In respect to one of the major players of the movie, one of the larger fossil animal genera, and a member of the "ruling reptiles of the sea", we shall discuss the mighty Mosasaurus this week. Oddly enough, Mosasaurus has not made it onto the list here yet, though other members of its family certainly have. Currently six species are recognized in the genus with Mosasaurus hoffmannii Mantell 1829 residing in the slot of type material. The genus has been around slightly longer and was assigned originally by Conybeare in 1822 with his description of the "Meuse River lizard". Despite the name, which is location based, the aquatic reptiles were ocean loving animals, and their size was appropriate for large predators of the Mesozoic oceans.

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