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Dinosaur Basics

What is a dinosaur? When and where did dinosaurs live? And why are they called "dinosaurs" in the first place?
  1. Dinosaur Facts (31)
  2. Dinosaur Glossary (111)
  3. The Dinosaur Encyclopedia (14)

The Dinosaur Encyclopedia
Paleontologists have named over a thousand dinosaur species, but a mere handful have saturated popular culture to the extent that they're instantly recognizable. Here's everything you need to know about the 10 most popular dinosaurs, ranging from Allosaurus to T. Rex.

The Three Ages of Dinosaurs
What does it mean to say that a dinosaur lived in the Triassic, Jurassic, or Cretaceous periods? Here's a detailed description of these three stretches of time that comprise the Mesozoic Era (250 to 65 million years ago), and the plants, animals, climate and geologic features that set them apart.

The Definition of a Dinosaur
The scientific definition of what constitutes a "dinosaur" is a lot more involved than you might think, and helps to explain why marine reptiles, pterosaurs, and other splay-footed genera of the Mesozoic Era don't technically count as dinosaurs. Here's a brief explanation.

10 Myths About Dinosaurs
We know enough about dinosaurs to fill a Diplodocus-sized aircraft hanger--but that hasn't prevented people from adhering to age-old myths about these extinct reptiles. Here are the 10 things you thought you knew about dinosaurs that simply aren't true.

How Long Could Dinosaurs Live?
Did dinosaurs live for hundreds of years, like modern tortoises, or did they have "mammalian" life spans that could be measured in mere years or decades? Here's what we currently know about how long dinosaurs lived, and the issues that complicate modern calculations of dinosaur life spans.

What Did Dinosaurs Look Like?
Decades ago it was fashionable to depict dinosaurs as having scaly, grey, reptilian skin; now the trend has swung the opposite way, toward plush feathers and bright, primary colors. But what did dinosaurs really look like, and how can paleontologists tell for sure?

How Much Did Dinosaurs Weigh?
Paleontologists and amateurs alike have a long history of overestimating the weight of dinosaurs, meaning those 100-ton sauropods and 10-ton meat-eaters may have tipped the scales at significantly less than was once thought. Here's a look at how experts determine a given dinosaur's weight.

How Fast Could Dinosaurs Run?
Could Tyrannosaurus Rex run fast enough to catch a modern-day human, or even a toddler on a tricycle? Were ornithomimids really as speedy as ostriches, or even a new-model electric car? Here's what we know, and don't know, about the running (and walking) speeds of dinosaurs.

Why Were Dinosaurs So Big?
Species by species, individual by individual, dinosaurs were bigger than any other land-dwelling animals that ever lived, with the exception of scattered reptiles and mammals. Here are some theories that just might account for dinosaur gigantism.

Could Dinosaurs Swim?
Virtually every terrestrial animal alive today knows how to swim, at least when it has no choice, which means dinosaurs did, too. But do we have any solid evidence for swimming dinosaurs, and what even constitutes "evidence" when an everyday activity leaves no fossil traces?

How to Translate Dinosaur Names
It can be hard to distinguish Micropachycephalosaurus from Brachytrachelopan, especially if you don't happen to know the Greek roots from which these unpronounceable names derive. Here's a list of the Greek words most commonly used to name dinosaurs, along with their English equivalents.

How Are Dinosaurs Named?
Why do some dinosaurs have such goofy names, while others are more businesslike and still others are christened after specific people or places? Here's a brief explanation of the process by which paleontologists go about describing, and naming, new dinosaurs.

The 10 Most Important Dinosaurs You've Never Heard Of
Sometimes, the dinosaurs the public happens to latch onto--Apatosaurus, Velociraptor, Tyrannosaurus Rex--are less important to paleontologists than they are to movie producers. Here's a list of 10 dinosaurs you've probably never heard of, but which have made substantial contributions to our knowledge of prehistoric life.

How Smart Were Dinosaurs?
Did all dinosaurs have a brain the size of a walnut, or were some the mental match of modern mammals? Here's a look at modern views about dinosaur intelligence, as well as speculation about how smart dinosaurs might eventually have become if not for the K/T Extinction.

Where Did Dinosaurs Live?
North and South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Antarctica and Australia were all home to an impressive assortment of dinosaurs during the Mesozoic Era. Here's a guide to the 10 most notable, and most important, dinosaurs that lived on each of these continents millions of years ago.

10 Frequently Asked Dinosaur Questions
When did dinosaurs live, and why did they go extinct? What did dinosaurs look like, and what did they eat? How fast could dinosaurs run, and how long could they live? Here's a list of the 10 most frequently asked dinosaur questions, complete with links to additional information.

What Habitats Did Dinosaurs Live In?
Like modern mammals, dinosaurs occupied a wide range of habitats during the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, ranging from deserts to tropical jungles to polar regions. Here's a list of the 10 most important habitats prowled by dinosaurs during the Mesozoic Era.

What Did Dinosaurs Eat?
Some dinosaurs were meat-eaters, and some dinosaurs were plant-eaters--but all dinosaurs, large or small, had to eat constantly in order to survive. Here's a look at the preferred diets of carnivorous and herbivorous dinosaurs during the Mesozoic Era.

How Big Were Prehistoric Animals?
It's one thing to know that a dinosaur was 40 feet long and weighed seven tons, and another to grasp just how enormous that was compared to the average full-grown human. This photo gallery will show you just how enormous some prehistoric animals were!

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