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<   No. 2601   2010-03-11   >

Comic #2601

1 Scientist Adam: Look, a clutch of dinosaur eggs! I wonder what species they are.
2 Scientist Jamie: With our modern 1940s scientific knowledge, we know dinosaurs are plodding reptiles who abandon their young.
3 Scientist Jamie: So unfortunately the parents are long gone.
4 Scientist Adam: Well I guess they won't mind if we take one home with us! {An Allosaurus appears behind them.}

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Dinosaur palaeontology has changed a lot since I was a kid. (Which was much later than the '40s, thank you very much.)

The dinosaur books I grew up with described them essentially as big, dumb lizards: cold-blooded, slow-moving, stupid, and bad parents. Basically, it was no wonder they died out.

Nowadays we understand the messages held in the fossils much better. There's still a lot we don't really know, but it seems clear that dinosaurs were much more dynamic and lively, and better parents, than anyone thought a few decades ago. As with all animals, they were shaped by their environment into creatures superbly adapted for the rigours of life. Rather than being plodding no-hopers destined to die out, they dominated Earth for about 165 million years.

Circumstances finally overtook them 65 million years ago, and the most glamorous representatives of the dinosaur line did indeed die out*. But they were around for a long, long time. Here, take a look:

dinosaur timeline

This diagram is drawn with the timespans to scale. The length of time dinosaurs existed is longer than the length of time between now and when the last dinosaurs died out. Think of the amount of time between right now, and when Tyrannosaurus rex roamed the Earth. That time is shorter - much shorter - than the time between T. rex and the earliest dinosaurs.

And yet it still dwarfs the amount of time that humans have been around. Heck, dinosaurs were around longer than primates have been around, let along apes, or hominins, or human beings. Humans have been around for maybe 200,000 years. That's less than one eight-hundredth the amount of time that dinosaurs were on Earth.

Think about that until your mind is boggled. It shouldn't take long.

* Technically speaking, the dinosaurs never completely died out at all. Some of their descendants still live on Earth. We call them birds.

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Last Modified: Thursday, 11 March 2010; 02:11:02 PST.
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