The Dinosaur Portal

Triceratops prorsus old skull002.png

Introduction

A collection of fossil dinosaur skeletons. Clockwise from top left: Microraptor gui (a winged theropod), Apatosaurus louisae (a giant sauropod), Edmontosaurus regalis (a duck-billed ornithopod), Triceratops horridus (a horned ceratopsian), Stegosaurus stenops (a plated stegosaur), Pinacosaurus grangeri (an armored ankylosaur)

Dinosaurs are a diverse group of reptiles of the clade Dinosauria. They first appeared during the Triassic period, between 243 and 233.23 million years ago, although the exact origin and timing of the evolution of dinosaurs is the subject of active research. They became the dominant terrestrial vertebrates after the Triassic–Jurassic extinction event 201 million years ago; their dominance continued through the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. The fossil record demonstrates that birds are modern feathered dinosaurs, having evolved from earlier theropods during the late Jurassic Period. As such, birds were the only dinosaur lineage to survive the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event 66 million years ago. Dinosaurs can therefore be divided into avian dinosaurs, or birds; and non-avian dinosaurs, which are all dinosaurs other than birds. This article deals primarily with non-avian dinosaurs.

Dinosaurs are a varied group of animals from taxonomic, morphological and ecological standpoints. Birds, at over 10,000 living species, are the most diverse group of vertebrates besides perciform fish. Using fossil evidence, paleontologists have identified over 500 distinct genera and more than 1,000 different species of non-avian dinosaurs. Dinosaurs are represented on every continent by both extant species (birds) and fossil remains. Through the first half of the 20th century, before birds were recognized to be dinosaurs, most of the scientific community believed dinosaurs to have been sluggish and cold-blooded. Most research conducted since the 1970s, however, has indicated that all dinosaurs were active animals with elevated metabolisms and numerous adaptations for social interaction. Some were herbivorous, others carnivorous. Evidence suggests that egg-laying and nest-building are additional traits shared by all dinosaurs, avian and non-avian alike.

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Artist's impression of Massospondylus depicting the animal as bipedal.
Massospondylus (meaning 'elongated vertebra') is a genus of prosauropod dinosaur from the early Jurassic Period (Hettangian to Pliensbachian ages, ca. 200–183 million years ago). It was described by Sir Richard Owen in 1854 from remains found in South Africa, and is thus one of the first dinosaurs to have been named. Fossils have since been found in Lesotho, Zimbabwe, and other parts of South Africa. Further material from Arizona's Kayenta Formation, India, and Argentina has been assigned to this genus, but may not belong to Massospondylus.

The type, and only universally recognized species, is M. carinatus, although six other species have been named during the past 150 years. Prosauropod systematics have undergone numerous revisions during the last several years, and many scientists disagree where exactly Massospondylus lies on the dinosaur evolutionary tree. The family name Massospondylidae was once coined for the genus, but because knowledge of prosauropod relationships is in a state of flux, it is unclear which other dinosaurs—if any—belong in a natural grouping of massospondylids; several 2007 papers support the family's validity.

Although Massospondylus was long depicted as quadrupedal, a 2007 study found it to be bipedal. It was probably a herbivore, although it is speculated that the prosauropods may have been omnivorous. This animal, 4–6 meters (13–20 ft) long, had a long neck and tail, with a small head and slender body. On each of its forefeet, it bore a sharp thumb claw that was used in defense or feeding. Recent studies indicate Massospondylus grew steadily throughout its lifespan, possessed air sacs similar to those of birds, and may have cared for its young. (see more...)

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Spinosaurus aegyptiacus

Life drawing of the theropod Spinosaurus aegyptiacus swimming

Photo credit: User:ДиБгд

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