Extreme Dinosaurs

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Extreme Dinosaurs ventures deep into prehistory to examine a vanished world. Learn how Tyrannosaurus rex hunted and scavenged, marvel at the mountain of flesh and bone that was Argentinosaurus, and experience the trials and triumphs of paleontologists past and present. Evolving and diversifying rapidly, dinosaurs dominated the Earth for more than 150 million years. Encounter the "terrible lizards" in all their glory, whether agile pack-hunters, bony-plated beasts, or tiny hatchlings. Also, discover how some ...

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Overview

Extreme Dinosaurs ventures deep into prehistory to examine a vanished world. Learn how Tyrannosaurus rex hunted and scavenged, marvel at the mountain of flesh and bone that was Argentinosaurus, and experience the trials and triumphs of paleontologists past and present. Evolving and diversifying rapidly, dinosaurs dominated the Earth for more than 150 million years. Encounter the "terrible lizards" in all their glory, whether agile pack-hunters, bony-plated beasts, or tiny hatchlings. Also, discover how some dinosaurs evolved into birds, thus surviving the ultimate calamity—mass extinction.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060891428
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 4/22/2008
  • Series: Extreme Wonders Series
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 7.37 (w) x 9.12 (h) x 0.47 (d)

Meet the Author

Leslie Mertz, Ph.D., is a field biologist, educator, and science writer. She has authored numerous books and articles on the natural world and science.

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Read an Excerpt

Extreme Dinosaurs

Chapter One

Biggest Meat-eaters

Records, extremes, and supremes endlessly intrigue. Biggest is especially fascinating—particularly when it is a huge meat-eating predator, mouth filled with deadly fangs, and a gape that could easily accommodate a human being. No wonder Tyrannosaurus is one of the world's best-known creatures, even though it perished 65 million years ago. Formerly famed as the biggest meat-eater in history, Tyrannosaurus has been challenged in recent years by a rash of newly discovered fossils which reveal even greater hunters.

When reconstructing dinosaurs, especially if they are potential record breakers, caution is key. This applies particularly to specimens where only small fragments remain—which, in paleontology, is the vast majority of cases. People naturally wish to focus on the extremes of estimates, rather than the more considered middle range of measurements. The following pages include several claimants to the throne of largest-ever land meat-eater. In some cases, there is a lack of fossil material for full assessment, and it is with caution that they should be hailed as newly crowned champions.

First with a Name

In 1824 Oxford scholar William Buckland (1784-1856) became president of the prestigious Geological Society of London. That same year he published an account of fossils discovered several years earlier in Stonesfield Quarry, near Oxford, England. He described several fossils as belonging to some form of large, long-gone reptile. Buckland named the beast Megalosaurus, "great lizard." This was the first scientific name bestowed ona dinosaur. However, Buckland knew nothing of this, since the term dinosaur would not be coined for another 18 years.

Scant Remains

The fossils examined by Buckland included a length of lower jaw with teeth, some vertebrae (backbones), and assorted portions of a scapula (shoulder blade), pelvis (hip bone), and hind limb bones. The jaw was especially striking, with one long, sharp, fully grown mature tooth, and several shorter, younger, part-grown teeth.

These fossils were quite probably not from one individual, but two or more. They had already been examined by Georges Cuvier (1769-1832), the enormously influential French comparative anatomist and one of Europe's most respected scientists. On a visit to Buckland, Cuvier agreed that the remains represented a lizard-like reptile of some kind. At different times, Buckland variously estimated the length of Megalosaurus at 23 to 40 feet (7-12 m).

A Wastebasket Genus

Over the following decades, any fossils that remotely resembled a large meat-eating reptile were casually named Megalosaurus. The supposed geographic range of the "great lizard" spread as remains fitting its description were reported from France, Belgium, and Germany, then Portugal, and farther-flung regions. Eventually, alleged Megalosaurus fossils were being dug up in North America and even Australia. Thus the name Megalosaurus became a "wastebasket genus" for all these various fossils. To add to the confusion, early reconstructions showed Megalosaurus resembling a stiff-legged crocodile, with a low, midline, sail-like crest of skin between its shoulders—due to vertebrae from a different dinosaur, the spinosaur Altispinax, being drafted in as substitutes for missing Megalosaurus backbones.

Modern Views

In recent times, many of the so-called Megalosaurus specimens have been restudied and assigned to other genera.

For example, in 1964 one of the better-preserved English specimens was renamed Eustreptospondylus, and some of the North American remains are now regarded as Dilophosaurus.

Megalosaurus remains a generally poorly known, medium-large carnivore from Late Jurassic times in Europe. It was perhaps a cousin of North America's Allosaurus. At first glance its reconstruction might resemble Allosaurus or Tyrannosaurus in overall body form and posture. Megalosaurus was probably around 30 feet (9 m) in length and 1 ton in weight. Various trackways, or series of fossilized footprints, have been attributed to it, including some fine sets near Ardley, England, uncovered in 1997. These may show its progress across what is now the rolling Oxfordshire countryside.

Extreme Dinosaurs. Copyright © by Steve Parker. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Table of Contents


Monsters of the Mesozoic     1
What Was a Dinosaur?     4
Dinosaur Timeline     6
Main Dinosaur Groups     8
Dinosaur Fossil Hot Spots     10
Dinosaur Record Holders     12
Biggest Meat-Eaters     14
First with a Name     16
Terror of the Late Jurassic     18
King of Dinosaurs     20
A New "King"     22
The "Dinosaur Shark"     24
Sail in the Sunset     26
Biggest Plant-Eaters     28
The "Dinosaur Giraffe"     30
Land of Giants     32
More Southern Titans     34
Longer, Heavier     36
A Confusion of Names     38
Why So Big?     40
Small and Dainty     42
Pretty Small     44
Miniature Sprinter     46
Types of Teeth     48
New Contenders     50
Anatomical Extremes     52
The Long-Necks     54
Skulls and Frills     56
Strange Heads     58
Mouths and Beaks     60
Tiny-and Useless?     62
Giant Claws     64
Ancient Wing     66
Feathers and Beaks     68
Flying Dinosaurs     70
First and Last     72
Origins of Dinosaurs     74
Early Members?     76
An Early Hunter     78
Dinosaurs Get Going     80
Last of the Hunters     82
Three Horns, Big Frill     84
Time of the Duckbills     86
Extremely Extinct     88
Decreasingly Diverse     90
Times of Change     92
Disaster Strikes     94
Died, Survived     96
Carnivores and Herbivores     98
On the Prowl     100
Hunting Techniques     102
Small but Formidable     104
An Intelligent Pack-hunter?     106
Fish-eating Dinosaurs     108
Hunting Among Big Predators     110
The Vegetarian Option     112
Teeth by the Hundreds, All in Rows     114
Chompers and Chewers     116
Making a Living on Plants     118
Horned Dinosaurs     120
Self-Defense     122
Heavy Armor     124
Tails for Defense     126
Horns and Frills     128
Butting Heads     130
Run, Gallimimus, Run!     132
Extreme Lifestyles     134
Survival Tactics     136
Did They Migrate?     138
Mixed Herds     140
Surviving in a Harsh Climate     142
The Trials of Breeding     144
The Mating Game     146
Dinosaur Eggs     148
Nests and Parental Care     150
Fossils, Fame, and Fortune     152
Early Rivalry     154
Before the Dinosauria     156
Important Teeth     158
The Dinosaurs Are Born     160
Dinomania!     162
Deep in a Coal Mine     164
Dinosaurs in America     166
Bone Wars     168
Colorful Character     170
Difficult and Dangerous Work     172
Barnum Brown     174
Red Deer River     176
Into Africa     178
Dinosaur Desert     180
The East     182
Gobi Again     184
More Chinese Finds     186
More and More Extreme     188
Discoveries in the South     190
World Renown     192
Chinese Riches     194
Dinosaurs for Sale     196
Changing Times     198
Today and Tomorrow     200
Glossary     202
Find Out More     206
At the Smithsonian     208
Index     212
Acknowledgments and Credits     217
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