Geoscience Research Institute

Dinosaurs

1. How many different kinds of dinosaurs1 were there?

There is no official list of dinosaur species, but we can give approximate numbers. The number of named genera is more than 900,2 but it is uncertain how many are valid. Some fossils are too incomplete to make a secure identification, and occasionally someone discovers that different fossils with different names turn out to be of the same kind of dinosaur.3 Many genera, perhaps half, are represented by only a single specimen, while ten species, such as Maiasaura, are known from at least 40 specimens.4 The number of different kinds of dinosaurs known keeps increasing as new fossils are found. Thus, no fixed number can be given for the different types of dinosaurs, but it is at least several hundred. Dinosaurs were diverse in size and other characteristics. They ranged in length from the size of a pigeon (25 cm, 10 in)5 to 30 m (100 ft) or more.6 Some were vegetarians, while others were predators. Some were bipedal while others were walked on all four feet. The greatest diversity of dinosaurs is found in the uppermost Cretaceous rocks (Maastrichtian), after which point they disappear from the fossil record.7 Several extinct types of fossil reptiles are sometimes wrongly thought to be dinosaurs. These include the pterosaurs, which were flying reptiles, and several kinds of marine reptiles, such as the ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs, mososaurs and nothosaurs.

2. Are human and dinosaur fossils found together?

No. There have been unsubstantiated reports of human and dinosaur fossils in the same place, but none of them has been confirmed. There was a claim that human and dinosaur footprints were found together in the riverbed of the Paluxy River of Texas, but this claim has been refuted. The dinosaur footprints are genuine, but the human footprints are not.8

3. Were there any dinosaurs on the ark?

We have no physical evidence to show whether dinosaurs were on the ark. Ancient pictographs showing dinosaur-like creatures, along with legends of dragons form the basis of some speculation about cultural memory of dinosaurs. However, there is no known physical evidence that dinosaurs lived after the Flood. No dinosaur bones have been found in archaeological sites, or in fossil strata containing humans.Occasional reports have been made of supposed dinosaurs or other extinct reptiles living in remote places in Scotland, Zaire, the ocean or elsewhere, but none of these has been verified. Some have proposed that biblical references to leviathan (Job 41:1, Psalm 74:14, 104:26, Isaiah 27:1) or behemoth (Job 40:15) refer to dinosaurs, but it has also been argued that these names may well have referred to other large animals such as crocodiles, whales or hippos, all of which have been found as fossils in or near Israel.

4. What did dinosaurs eat?

Most dinosaurs, probably about three-fourths of known genera, were herbivores. These include the ornithischians, the large sauropods and a few theropods.9 Some may have eaten small animals if they were available. The theropods were mostly carnivorous. Some ate fish, while others probably ate larger animals, such as other dinosaurs or mammals.

5. Were dinosaurs warm-blooded?

Scientists disagree on the answer to this question. Dinosaurs were probably not warm-blooded in the sense that birds and mammals are warm-blooded. They may have lived in warm humid climates, which would mean they had no difficulty staying warm. The large-bodied forms would have conserved heat more efficiently than the small-bodied forms. Their metabolisms may have been more rapid than the reptiles living today, which would have given them an increased body temperature.10

6. Did God create the dinosaurs, or are they the result of evil?

God created all life, including the ancestors of the dinosaurs. However, we do not know how much the animals might have changed after the creation. Fossils of dinosaurs were formed only after sin impacted the creation and animals began to die. By that time, living organisms – including dinosaurs – may have been corrupted in some way. The Bible states that nature had become corrupted and filled with violence (Genesis 6:11-13), which was why God sent the flood.11 Some dinosaurs were violent predators, but the majority of known species appear to have been vegetarian animals within the normal size range of animals living today and well adapted to the environment in which they lived.

7. Do scientists believe that birds evolved from dinosaurs?

A majority of scientists who speak out on this point claim that birds evolved from maniraptoran dinosaurs. However, a number of scientists, including some highly respected avian paleontologists, have pointed out problems in the hypothesis of dinosaur ancestry for birds.12 A few scientists have proposed that birds evolved from a different group of reptiles, not from dinosaurs.13If one’s philosophical beliefs require one to find an ancestor for the birds, the dinosaurs may be the best known candidate. Birds share a number of skeletal similarities with dinosaurs that cause them to be grouped with dinosaurs by most taxonomists. Some fossils have been found with a mixture of traits typical of modern birds and of dinosaurs or other  reptiles. Archaeopteryx  is the most famous example, with feathers that look like those of living birds, and also some reptilian features.14 Archaeopteryx is widely interpreted as a bird, although with some important differences from any bird now living. Some dinosaur-like fossils discovered in China appear to have feathers but they are found in layers that are geologically younger than the Archaeopteryx, and so, in an evolutionary context, cannot be ancestors to the birds. They may be birds that have lost the ability to fly or true dinosaurs with feathers.15 The presence of feathers on a dinosaur does not require that birds must be related to dinosaurs. All birds have feathers, but this does not mean that all birds evolved from a single common ancestor. The biblical creation story refers to the creation of a diversity of flying creatures. There were many separately created groups of birds and there is no reason there could not be other kinds of feathered organisms, possibly even dinosaurs.

8. What unsolved questions about dinosaurs are of greatest interest?

What do dinosaur trackways in the middle of the geologic column tell us about the flood? How do we explain what appear to be nests of dinosaur eggs and babies in sediments we think were probably deposited by the flood? Why don’t we find fossils of dinosaurs mixed with fossils of living types of mammals?

[1] For additional information see Esperante, R. 1011. How do dinosaurs fit in a biblical perspective? In Gibson, LJ and Rasi, HM, eds., Understanding Creation, Nampa, ID: Pacific Press, 158-166.

[2] An estimate in 2006 was 527 known genera: Wang, S.C. and P Dodson (2006). Estimating the diversity of dinosaurs. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 103(37):13601-13605.Wikipedia article “List of Dinosaur Genera” has a list of about 960 dinosaur genera, some of which are probably not valid: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_dinosaur_genera Downloaded 21 August 2013).

[3] See e.g., Hedrick BP and P Dodson (2013). Lujiatun psittacosaurids: understanding individual and taphonomic variation using 3D geometric morphometrics. PLoS One 8(8): e69265. Doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0069265

[4] Dodson, P. (1990). Counting dinosaurs. How many kinds were there? Proceedings National Academy of Sciences USA 87:7608-7612.

[5] Zhang, Fucheng, et al. A bizarre Jurassic maniraptoran from China with elongate ribbon-like feathers. Nature 455:1105-1108 (23 October 2008).

[6] Burness, GP, J Diamond and T Flannery. Dinosaurs, dragons and dwarfs: The evolution of maximal body size. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, USA 98(25):14518-14523.

[7] Archibald, JD and DE Fastovsky. “Dinosaur extinction,” in Weishampel, DB, P Dodson, and H Osmolska, eds. The Dinosauria. Berkeley: University of California Press (2004; 672-684).

[8] Neufeld B. 1975. Dinosaur tracks and giant men. Origins 2:64-76

[9] Fastovsky, DE and JB Smith. “Dinosaur paleoecology,” in Weishampel, DB, P Dodson, and H Osmolska, eds. The Dinosauria. Berkeley: University of California Press (2004; 614-626).

[10] Chinsamy, A and WJ Hillenius. “Physiology of nonavian dinosaurs,” in (Weishampel, DB, P Dodson, and H Osmolska, eds.) The Dinosauria. Berkeley: University of California Press (2004; 643-659).

[11] Genesis 6:12-13.

[12] Feducia, A. Riddle of the Feathered Dragons: Hidden Birds of China. Yale University Press (2012)

[13] (a) Martin LD. 1991. Mesozoic birds and the origin of birds. In: Schultze H-P, Trueb L, editors. Origins of the Higher Groups of Tetrapods. Ithaca and London: Comstock Publishing Associates, Cornell University Press, p 485-540; (b) Tarsitano S. 1991. Ibid, p 541-576; (c) Jones TD. 2000. Nonavian feathers in a Late Triassic archosaur. Science 288:2202-2205

[14] Information on Archaeopteryx is found in many references, such as: (a) Carroll RL. 1988. Vertebrate Paleontology and Evolution. London: WH Freeman. The Chinese fossils are discussed in various papers, e.g.: (b) Qiang J, Currie PJ, Norell MA, Shuan J. 1998. Two feathered dinosaurs from northeastern China. Nature 393:753-761; (c) Stokstad E. 2000. Feathers, or flight of fancy? Science 288:2124-2125.

[15] Feduccia, op cit