Rediscovering the Age of Dinosaurs
Kristi Curry Rogers is a dinosaur paleontologist and a Professor of Biology and Geology at Macalester College. She earned her PhD in Anatomical Sciences from Stony Brook University. She conducted a detailed study of sauropod dinosaurs inhabiting the island of Madagascar, which resulted in the discovery and naming of two new sauropod dinosaur genera, Rapetosaurus and Vahiny. She has published more than 45 research papers and coauthored the book The Sauropods: Evolution and Paleobiology.
01: Our Enduring Fascination with Dinosaurs
Take account of the deep presence of dinosaurs in our cultural imagination, both within modern societies and those of Indigenous peoples around the world. Trace Professor Curry Rogers’ background and path to becoming a dinosaur paleontologist. Then, learn about the work of paleontologists, both in the field and in museums, and consider what dinosaurs reveal about the Earth’s history.
02: Finding the First Dinosaur Bones
Track the story of how explanations for ancient fossils were first grounded in science. Beginning in the 17th century, follow the events that led to the “fossil fever” of the early 1800s, and the work of early British fossil collectors. Learn also about the naming of dinosaurs, and the first artistic portrayals of them, which were integral to both scientific and public knowledge of these amazing creatures.
03: The Extinction That Launched the Dinosaurs
Look into the origins of the dinosaurs, and the ecological conditions that allowed them to flourish. Study the context of the Mesozoic Era, in which the dinosaurs emerged. Learn about the mass extinction during this era that critically affected the dinosaurs’ evolutionary path. Take note of biological adaptations that may explain how the dinosaurs survived and diversified so successfully.
04: The Saurischia: Sharp Teeth, Long Necks
Take a first look at how paleontologists categorize dinosaurs. Focusing on the major Saurischia group, identify the dinosaurs of the subgroup Theropoda, including carnivorous predators such as Tyrannosaurus rex and feathered dinosaurs. Continue with subgroups Prosauropoda, a diverse group of herbivores, and Sauropoda, containing the giant, long-necked herbivores such as the iconic Apatosaurus.
05: The Ornithischia: Armor, Thick Heads, Horns
Complete your tour of dinosaur groups with the species of Ornithischia, a large family of herbivores that feature striking anatomy. Get to know the subgroups of Ankylosauria, with their armor and tail clubs; Stegosauria, known for dorsal plates and spikes; Ceratopsia, sporting eye and nose horns, and frills; Pachycephalosauria, the bone-headed dinosaurs; and Ornithopoda, the duck-billed species.
06: How Rocks Reveal Dinosaur Secrets
Contemplate geological time, the span of hundreds of millions of years that contextualizes the Age of the Dinosaurs. Learn about the types of rock strata that contain the fossil record, and the preserved environments, from deserts to lake, river, and marine ecosystems, where fossils are found. Grasp how scientists analyze and date fossil finds with relation to the geological record.
07: How Bones Become Fossils
Consider the rare and complex circumstances that are necessary for the creation of fossils. Begin with an understanding of the two categories of fossils: body fossils and trace fossils. Consider the five modes by which organic materials become fossilized. Then, study key parameters, from ecological to climatic, that are necessary in the lengthy journey that allows a dead dinosaur to become a fossil.
08: A Dinosaur Mystery in Madagascar
Travel with Professor Curry Rogers to the island of Madagascar, an ecosystem that has yielded dazzling dinosaur remains. Learn about her ongoing work there, involving the discovery of new species of titanosaur, the largest of the dinosaurs, and rare evidence of dinosaur cannibalism. Look into what may explain huge bonebeds on Madagascar that indicate repeated mass deaths of dinosaurs.
09: Tracing the Dinosaur Evolutionary Tree
Investigate natural selection—how organisms evolve as they adapt to their environment. Also, study convergent evolution, where different species independently evolve similar features. Learn how scientists discern which organisms evolved from which, and which groups are most closely related. From this, grasp why birds, in fact, are dinosaurs, and why ancient swimming and flying reptiles are not.
10: What Did T. rex Taste Like?
Follow events in recent decades that have revolutionized dinosaur paleontology, overturning the earlier conception of dinosaurs as slow-moving and cold-blooded. Study fieldwork revealing active, agile, and fleet-footed dinosaurs, and shedding light on their deep evolutionary connection with birds. Review fascinating discoveries of feathered dinosaurs, and other evidence linking these groups.
11: Dinosaurs in Your Backyard
Trace the evolutionary path of birds within the Age of Dinosaurs. Take stock of the amazing diversity of ancient birds and bird types in the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. Then, look into the key physiological components in the evolution of powered flight, from smaller and lighter body types to forebrain expansion and musculature, and examine the question of how flight began.
12: Marine Monsters of the Mesozoic
Here, encounter the fearsome swimming reptiles that lived alongside the dinosaurs, yet were not themselves dinosaurs. Note how these creatures descended from former terrestrial animals, evolving unique specializations for marine life. Learn about the three main groups of ancient marine reptiles, the plesiosaurs, mosasaurs, and ichthyosaurs, and look into whether any actual dinosaurs swam.
13: Weirdest Wonders on Wings
Enter the amazing world of ancient flying reptiles, the first vertebrates to fly. Examine the unique wing structure of the pterosaurs, as contrasted with those of birds and bats. Get to know the two distinctive groups of pterosaurs, the small and graceful rhamphorhynchids, and the massive pterodactyls. Review leading scientific thinking on how these incredible animals launched into the air.
14: The Non-Dinosaurs in the Age of Dinosaurs
The ecosystems in which the dinosaurs flourished were populated by many other astonishing creatures. Meet Professor Curry Rogers in Madagascar to uncover fascinating examples, such as a terrestrial, armored, plant-eating crocodile. Continue with giant, carnivorous frogs; a suction-feeding frog/turtle; bizarre Cretaceous mammals; ancient birds with teeth; and a tiny, feathered dinosaur.
15: Dissecting a T. rex
Explore exciting new methods in dinosaur paleontology, as used to study the famous T. rex. Among these, see how CT scans are used to reconstruct dinosaurs’ sensory capacities, and how geochemical analysis reveals details of their diets, migration patterns, and body temperature. Learn how scientists answer questions such as how fast T. rex could run, and how many T. rex existed at any given time.
16: How Did Dinosaurs Get So Big?
Dig deeply into dinosaur bones, and what they reveal about the immense size of some species. Look at how early paleontologists made sense of giant sauropods, and how they must have moved. Investigate the physiology of bone growth and how bone histology aids in pinpointing dinosaur growth rates, showing that huge sauropods grew 50 times faster than modern reptiles, a pattern similar to whales.
17: Were Dinosaurs Warm-Blooded?
Paleontologists are now debating the traditional assumption that dinosaurs were cold-blooded. Learn the basics of thermoregulation in vertebrates. Then, consider the range of evidence, relating to body type and size, heart function, locomotion, brain capacity, and body temperature, that points to the possibility that dinosaurs were metabolically closer to birds and mammals than to modern reptiles.
18: The Eaters and the Eaten in the Dinosaur Age
The fossil record reveals fascinating details about dinosaurs’ lifestyles, diets, and feeding strategies. See what dinosaur teeth and jaw structures tell us about how they ate and how they digested food, as in herbivores’ scissor-like dental formations and beaks. Note also what fossilized dinosaur droppings show about their diets, and how dinosaurs themselves could be prey for other animals.
19: The Tough Lives of Allosaurus and T. rex
Throughout life, dinosaurs were vulnerable to many kinds of injury and disease, from combat injuries and predation to parasites and bacterial infections. Examine evidence from a large find of skeletons of the predator Allosaurus, showing traumatic injuries and infections, all of which also indicate healing. In T. rex, note pathologies that would have made breathing, eating, and walking painful.
20: Reimagining Everything about Dinosaurs
Uncover the behavioral uses of dinosaurs’ strange anatomical features, using a variety of investigative methods. Learn how frills, bony projections, and horns may have had multiple uses, for protection and defense, as well as display and mating rituals. Consider whether dinosaurs’ feathers may have played a role in mating, and the likelihood that some species vocalized loudly with their mates.
21: Dinosaur Eggs and Babies
Study the eggs of living animals, and grasp what dinosaur egg structure, porosity, and pigments can tell us about nesting conditions and where they laid their eggs. Examine dinosaur nesting behavior and how they tended unhatched eggs and cared for their young. Review Professor Curry Roger’s work on the early life of giant sauropods, showing hatchling size, growth rates, and indicating youthful agility.
22: How Dinosaurs Conquered the Cold
Learn about climatic conditions at the poles during the Mesozoic Era, a relatively warmer period during which many dinosaur species lived in both the Arctic and the Antarctic. Look at evidence indicating that these dinosaurs are unlikely to have migrated during winter months. Take account of a variety of physical specializations that may have aided dinosaurs in adapting to cold and darkness.
23: The Extinction That Ended the Dinosaurs
Trace the history of extinction events across geological time, episodes of major climate change that wiped out vast numbers of animal and plant species. Then, investigate the extinction of the dinosaurs and other organisms in the late Cretaceous Period, and the environmental disturbances that caused it. Visualize the extent of the devastation and how surviving life forms were able to begin anew.
24: Dinosaur Resurrection
Conclude with a look at current work on the genetics of dinosaurs. Learn about chemical analysis of dinosaur fossils indicating traces of proteins and DNA, and studies investigating whether or not these are original soft tissues of dinosaurs. See how scientists are examining extinct DNA found in modern bird genomes, to unravel the evolutionary transitions that led from dinosaurs to birds.