Media release: DINOSAURS - Did you know?

As DINOSAURS move into Sydney, how well do you know your prehistoric neighbours....

  • The word dinosaur means 'terrible lizard' in Greek. It was coined in 1842 by Sir Richard Owen, an English professor of comparative anatomy and physiology.
  • Prior to 1842, dinosaur remains went unrecognised or were described as large lizards, dragons or giant humans!
  • Dinosaurs first appeared in the middle of the Triassic, about 230 million years ago, early in the Mesozoic era.
  • Dinosaurs dominated life on land until the Mesozoic came to an abrupt end 65 million years ago in a dramatic extinction event whereby an estimated 70% of plant and animal species perished.
  • Conifers like pines and araucarians dominated forested areas in the Middle Jurassic period. This produced an over-riding scent of pine - a smell familiar to us today.
  • Many flowering plants were evolving scent to attract insects in the Late Cretaceous. This made the smell very different to that of the Jurassic. These flowering plants grew and reproduced quickly, providing an abundant food source. The most common dinosaurs during the Late Cretaceous were those that fed on flowering plants.
  • Giganotosaurus replaced T. rex as the largest meat-eating dinosaur when its discovery was announced in 1995. The Argentinean dinosaur was 13-14m long and weighed 7 tonnes!
  • The world's smallest dinosaur was the Microraptor zhaoianus found in China - it measured just 40cm long!
  • The first Australian dinosaur fossil to be found and described by a scientist was a theropod claw. It was discovered in 1903 at Cape Paterson, Victoria, by geologist William Ferguson.
  • Birds are actually specialised theropod dinosaurs - the idea that birds evolved from dinosaurs was first suggested in the 1860s after the famous fossil discovery of the primitive bird Archaeopteryx.
  • In the early 1960s, in an area south of Winton in Queensland, a local grazier uncovered some odd-shaped footprints preserved in rock. Later excavations revealed that these footprints - over 3000 of them - were left by dinosaurs on the shore of a lake about 95 million years ago. These footprints are now known as 'The Winton Trackway.'
  • We can get an approximate measurement of the speed a dinosaur was moving when it made a trackway. Calculations are based on a mathematical formula that uses stride length along with estimated leg length and body size of the dinosaur.
  • Fossil bones and teeth of many different types of dinosaur, including small carnivores and small through to large herbivores, have been found in the opal mines of Lightning Ridge, NSW. These fossils are opalised, a type of preservation that, for animal bones, is only known to occur in Australia.
  • Dinosaur life started out in a hard-shelled egg - more similar to modern bird eggs than to those of any living reptile. Fossil dinosaur eggs have been found at over 200 sites around the world with important sites in the USA, China, France, Argentina and India.
  • Our picture of the lone predator is changing. Recent fossil discoveries suggest some dinosaurs lived in co-operative packs, raised their young and were probably quite social.

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