The Dinosaur Heresies

While The Dinosaur Heresies, by Robert T. Bakker was published over twenty years ago, it remains the seminal book that shifted the popular image of dinosaurs from plodding swamp things that were justly extinguished, to lively, rutting beasts whose children are birds. As the book acknowledges its debt to 19th century paleontologists, it’s an interesting example of how ideas can swing in and out of favor. Whether the ideas in the book have become mainstream or remained controversial, it’s a great book enlivened by the author’s own drawings.

For instance, it’s easy to make allosaurs and raptors exciting, but this book paints fascinating pictures of herbivores, like the giant long-necked dinosaurs. With such tiny heads, they might have had gizzards (big ones) to chew up the tough leaves they ate. The book argues they might have been able to pivot up on their rear legs and tail, so they could reach all the way to the treetops. And once the Jurassic stegosaurs and brontosaurs (sorry, apatasaurs) and brachiosaurs ate the trees, Cretaceous beaked dinosaurs ate the forests all the way down to the ground, paving the way for flowering plants.

Other ideas I’m not so sure about, especially the scenario proposed for the dinosaurs’ extinction. You have to remember that at the time, the asteroid impact was just one of many ideas, not the one we’re currently pretty sure about.
A classic.

4 thoughts on “The Dinosaur Heresies

  1. There is actually a growing school of thought that the asteroid catastrophe theory is much overdone. Fingers point toward the earth’s ability to produce it’s own extinction-level catastrophes by geological and climatological processes. (I don’t have time to find links just now.) If they’re onto something, in 20 more years we may not think so well of the asteroid hypothesis, either.

  2. The asteroid theory may be the current strongest contender, but it’s never been certain. For instance, IIRC, there’s some squirrely issues with the timing of the impact and the extinctions not being as precisely coincidental as you might like. Trouble is, even if we do shift to another explanation, it’s going to be hard to shake the dramatic appeal of hitting the Earth with a really big rock.

  3. By coincidence, I read that book about a month before finding this blog (it was not very far away from Campbell & Reece Biology on the shelves at the library). I liked it, except for the part about the extinction scenario. His “migration” scenario doesn’t come close to explaining the extinction of the ammonites, which should have been just fine on the continental shelves.

    I wish we still had ammonites. I like calamari. Link goes to story about why I like squid:

  4. Well, I’m glad you found my blog, emucompboy. (Is there a shorter way to say that?)

    Ammonites must have been beautiful creatures. The ones I miss are the trilobites.

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