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updated: 10/26/2010 12:46 PM

Even experts still learning about dinosaurs

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  • Dr. Paul Sereno holds a skull and reconstructed head of Rugops, one of his dinosaur discoveries, an 8-foot-tall beast with tiny arms that probably were useless for defense.

      Dr. Paul Sereno holds a skull and reconstructed head of Rugops, one of his dinosaur discoveries, an 8-foot-tall beast with tiny arms that probably were useless for defense.
    Courtesy of Dr. Paul Sereno

 

Jennifer Janik's third-graders at Big Hollow Primary School in Ingleside are curious about dinosaurs.

Dinosaurs would have made rotten pets. The gargantuan, armor-clad, pointy-toed creatures would have been tough to housebreak.

Even though dinosaurs have been extinct for more than 65 million years, scientists are still making discoveries, announcing new species and gaining a better understanding of how these creatures lived as they uncover fossil remains of these ferocious beasts.

World-renowned dinosaur expert Dr. Paul Sereno, a professor at the University of Chicago, has these answers to students' questions about dinosaurs:

Q. Why do dinosaurs have tails?

Sereno. Mainly for balance during locomotion. Fly swatting was an unlikely function for a dinosaur tail.

Q. How many species of dinosaurs are there?

Sereno. About 800 that are based on good fossil material.

Q. Why are they so big?

Sereno. Only some are bigger than the largest mammals. Keep in mind that the average size/mass of all dinosaurs is only about that of a pony. They had a metabolism that did not run as hot as a mammal's, or their descendants, the birds, and thus they could grow to larger sizes.

Q. Which dinosaur was the first living on Earth?

Sereno. I can't say. I identified the date of the oldest. They come from Argentina Herrerasaurus and Eoraptor. I'm going to name another one soon.

Dinosaurs lived on every continent during the Mesozoic era between 225 and 65 million years ago. Not only did this vertebrate species evolve, thrive and then disappear during that time span, but the Earth's land masses joined and separated during the same time period.

Paleontologists like Sereno cover the globe to seek out evidence of dinosaurs by carefully and methodically digging up fossils. Sereno's travels have taken him to China, South America, India and Africa in the search for evidence of these hulking animals.

He's made quite a few discoveries including Rugops, which means wrinkle face, a two-legged T. rex look-alike that roamed India and South America when the world's continents were joined.

By understanding the evolution and extinction of dinosaurs, scientists like Sereno will come closer to completing the puzzle of all evolutionary processes.

Sereno and his wife, Gabrielle Lyon, co-founded Project Exploration and sponsor science education programs for middle-schoolers and teens that include dinosaur exploration adventures and museum volunteer training. For information about Project Exploration, see the organization's website at projectexploration.org/programs.htm.

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