Why do dinosaurs attract such attention?

 It may seem like a trite observation but dinosaurs do seem to get an unusual amount of attention. Sure they were the dominant terrestrial clade for a good period of time, and they produced some weird and wonderful forms, and some of them were huge. But much as I love my dinosaurs, the attention they get does seem to be disproportionate to their importance and interest. You don’t see ammonites or calicotheres or fossil cetaceans or gorgonopsids attracting the same kind of attention.

The attention is double edged of course. While it means that dinosaurs do well in the literature and media, and museums obviously tend to go for great dinosaur displays, it does also attract the kind of interest you don’t want. Dinosaur researchers seem to have the near monopoly on members of the public finding ‘dinosaur bones’ in their backyard (it’s never a mammoth is it?) or tales of humor and horror of encounters with the public who are just a bit too into their dinosaurs. We get waaaay more than our fair share of ‘aquatic dinosaurs’ type-hypotheses and even academics that seem to want to dip into palaeontology always seem to head straight for the dinosaurs. And naturally the media knowing just how popular they are, are generally always ready to give a bit of coverage to the latest flawed efforts.

I’ve seen various explanations over the years but I’ve yet to come across anything backed by much evidence or that sounds overly convincing. It almost seems that dinosaurs are popular simply because they’ve always been popular and that has never faded and perhaps has even become self-fulfilling – with so much reporting on new finds, documentaries and museum exhibitions, they are always out there and being promoted. It’s clearly not going away anytime in the next decade or two, but for me at least, it’s far for clear quite how it’s been propagated so effectively for so long. Long may it continue of course, thought if a few more nutters want to start thinking more about trilobites and indricotheres (and less about tyrannosaurs) that would be good too.

31 Responses to “Why do dinosaurs attract such attention?”


  1. 1 protohedgehog 20/04/2012 at 1:04 pm

    Thought-provoking post Dave! I’d have phrased it ‘Why do dinosaurs _deserve_ such attention’, but you get the point across well :)

    One of my minor concerns about the current state of Palaeo is the amount that of dinosaur research that is still being conducted, awesome as it is, in times of fiscal pressure, with things like global biotic and climatic crises on the horizon – I reckon Palaeontologists should be gearing their research towards aiding this. That’s not to say dino research is useless, it just needs to become more focussed and integrative (Paul Upchurch gave an excellent talk on this recently at the Lyell meeting).

    In fact, I actually lost out on competitive funding for a dino-project last year, partially because I wasn’t good enough, and partially because it was difficult for me to compete against projects that had much more distinct impacts on modern biodiversity etc. The same theme was apparent at a recent interview in Southampton I had, where the head of the school sat there the whole time pretending to be a drunk guy in a bar asking why his tax money should go towards the project! It was difficult (for me) to justify the project in the context of the department’s goals.

    [off to discuss this now at the Geol Soc!]

    • 2 David Hone 20/04/2012 at 1:47 pm

      Well if you’re going to ask what direct benefits any given project or piece of research has then you might find a very large number of palaeontologists suddenly giving up what they’re working on. I certainly sympathise with the need to make things *on average* more relevant and integrated, but at the same time everything is integrated.

      The obvious example is taxonomy (and to a lesser extent systematics), a woefully underfunded branch of biology and yet if your taxonomy is shot, then there’s a risk that everything else is wrong. It looks boring and unimportant, but even sorting out fragments etc. is critical – if there really IS a record of species X on continent Y and time Z that can have a profound analysis on your attempted analysis of how they spread across the continents, or which conditions they lived in, or when they went extinct etc. etc. Is that group really static and only represented by a couple of taxa in any given formation, or massively understudied and undersplit because everything has been bunged into one taxon?

  2. 3 Pete Rowley 20/04/2012 at 1:15 pm

    It’s a good point. My own thinking is that it’s because they’re the nearest thing we have to aliens. There is nothing quite like them still around, unlike for instance ammonites, which obviously have the nautilus still bobbing about. They seem so incongruous with the world we know.

    • 4 David Hone 20/04/2012 at 1:38 pm

      Well that could be part of it – some of them are more weird and wonderful than others, but even the contemporary and odd plesiosaurs and pterosaurs don’t do anything like as well (probably better than ammonites but nothing like the dinosaurs) and other oddities like the early synapsids and so on don’t do well. Even things you might think would do well like mammoths (mammals are generally popular and elephants more than most) just can’t compete.

      • 5 steve cohen 20/04/2012 at 2:06 pm

        An important problem is that for most lay-people “fossil = dinosaur.”

        I deal with the public as a “fossil explainer” at AMNH and the vast majority of people don’t recognize that mammoths, pterosaurs and icthysaurs represent vastly different grouping of animals.

        Anything that is extinct and represented by fossils and drawings is a “dinosaur.”

        So perhaps a better title would be “Why do extinct animals attract such attention?”

      • 6 David Hone 20/04/2012 at 2:14 pm

        I recognise that problem Steve, but I do mean ‘dinosaur’. Again, look at the media’s coverage of palaeontology – aside from things that obviously do leap out (pregnant plesiosaurs, giant eurypterids, Tiktaalik etc.) the vast majority is dinosaurs. Even pretty mundane new dinosaurs get lots of coverage when relatively exciting finds of mammals or trilobites simply don’t.

      • 7 Pete Rowley 20/04/2012 at 6:33 pm

        But again, I would argue plesiosaurs are aquatic and people are used to large aquatic animals such as whales. Head, a few flippers, and we even in terms of ferocity people are used to images of Jaws biting boats in half. The dinosaurs that people get excited about are the massive lizard-like things that have no modern analogue. Velociraptor is a perfect example – however much you might point out that it’s the size of large Peacock, the image people *want* is the 3 m tall maneater from Jurassic Park.

        Mammoths are too similar to elephants to elicit that same response.

  3. 8 Marc Vincent 20/04/2012 at 5:00 pm

    Size matters, I think, in explaining the origins of ‘dinomania’. No other terrestrial herbivores can match the sauropods in sheer size, while no terrestrial carnivores can match the biggest theropods. Can’t explain everything, but surely an important factor in the origins of their sheer popularity, and the reason why they’ve appeared in so many books and movies…they’re really big, and they actually existed, which gives them an edge over fictitious monsters.

    If you want a parallel, you can check out how the ‘Liopleurozilla’ in Walking With Dinosaurs generated a load of plesiosaur-nutters…

  4. 9 Stephen 20/04/2012 at 5:59 pm

    Dinos excite the imagination of everyone. Wouldn’t it be cool to find something? And since preditors are rare, it would be double cool to find a T Rex. Of course, we’re preditors, and not particularly rare… If it’s any consolation, astronomers get people with almost any kind of rock that someone thinks fell from the sky. That, and bits of stuff that actually fell from the sky isn’t that hard to find. Every summer, the “Mars is bigger than the Full Moon” spam makes the rounds again. I try to take inquiries as an opportunity for a teaching moment.

    Did you know that something like half of the population is below average?

  5. 10 haileyjw 20/04/2012 at 6:43 pm

    You’re right, trilobites, gorgonopsids and indricotheres would surely benefit from some more attention, and it’s not like they’re any less cool than dinosaurs…indricotheres are actually pretty ridiculous come to think of it. And maybe deep down they’re even more cool because people are less ‘all over’ them, misquoting their data and confusing their groups and classes. But I guess that doesn’t help the funding aspect of it all though.Ohh popular science…how you compromise your own ultimate goals….

  6. 11 chris y 20/04/2012 at 7:29 pm

    Again, look at the media’s coverage of palaeontology {snip} the vast majority is dinosaurs

    And hominids.

    S.J.Gould used to quote somebody who said the magic formula for dinosaurs was “Big, fierce and extinct”, and although anybody at this site knows that’s no more accurate than “Holy Roman Empire“, it’s still the popular perception. But I think Pete Rowley also has a strong point that they’re the nearest thing we have to aliens. Extinct mammals are just mammals which happen to be extinct; the mesozoic is another world entirely.

    • 12 David Hone 20/04/2012 at 8:00 pm

      Well I left our homonids simply because I’d file them under anthropology. But even so, their appeal is obvious.

      I still don’t quite by the ‘aliens’ thing – sure they are weird, but there’s other bizarre stuff out there too that gets nary a mention.

  7. 13 Robert A. Sloan 20/04/2012 at 10:09 pm

    It’s an interesting point.

    My gut answer was “They’re big and some of them toothy.” But this is true of the sea creatures, the gorgonopsids and so on.

    “They’re big and varied.”

    That may come closer. When I think of other extinct giants, there doesn’t seem to be anywhere near as much variety as among dinosaurs. Not at the same time. Gorgonopsids – big toothy and scary, yes, but not so many dramatically weird big things around at the same time. Indricotheres – interesting, and people do get into it with Walking With Beasts, but all the mammals tend to get lumped together.

    I think it might be that the dinosaurs were the biggest and they’re not mammals – they’re fundamentally not like the big things of our time. I mean, the gray whale is bigger than any of the dinos but we’re still more impressed with the giant sauropods.

    “Big, weird and varied.” Mesozoic life seemed like the large fauna were all super sized, not just one or two giant species but everything multiple elephant sized, even the medium-sized creatures would stand out as giant compared to what we have in our time.

    That and familiarity. Since they did become that popular, they’re everywhere and everyone’s childhood memory. Pterosaurs and Mesozoic marine reptiles get lumped in with them in the public mind. I can see some reason for the lumping because at least they’re all Mesozoic Critters. Just wish they’d put that on the toy sets for accuracy. “Mesozoic animals including dinosaurs” rather than “Dino Pack.” But they’ll always keep it simple.

    I think those toys have a lot to do with it. We don’t see many toy indricotheres or cartoons about the little indricothere that could.

    As for whether studying dinosaurs is relevant, no one can know what is relevant until after it’s proved relevant. Continental drift got proven by matching dinosaur fossils across continents. With that much diversity I’d bet on understanding diversity and looking at previous world ecosystems complete in themselves, the more dinosaurs and their contemporaries get dug up. the clearer an image we have of the effects of say, global warming.

    Not that it’s going to result in chickens devolving back to T. Rex in Costa Rica, but some movie will have them doing that.

  8. 14 zombiezurfer 20/04/2012 at 10:32 pm

    My best guess as to the popularrity of Dinosaurs is because of their typical public profile: Big scary things with scales! It sounds straight from science fiction or a horror story, but it was REAL. And you can find their bones.

    Some sort of allure to big scary things that lived long before you were born exists, and I think that the fact dinosaurs were real and not some fairy tale is the ultimate cause, But I may be mistaken.

  9. 15 Allen Hazen 21/04/2012 at 3:05 am

    “Calicothere” (last sentence of first paragraph) brings to mind an image of a stuffed toy (of a clawed perissodactyl) in brightly patterned cloth…

    I don’t know why dinosaurs are so popular, but I resent it! I’m a fossil-mammal (& generally synapsid) enthusiast, and there is NOTHING on the WWWeb for me as good as, say, the “Dinosaur Mailing List”: I just keep looking at the DML and hoping someone goes off-topic!

    That said… the biggest dinosaurs were very, very big: bigger than any synapsids other than Cetaceans. So that’s one thing that probably helps get people hooked on them as children. And — maybe just because of the architectural constraints on how you can exhibit skeletons of different sizes — I think there is a tendency for museums to group the dinosaurs dramatically in the centre of the hall, with other fossil vertebrates in smaller displays around the walls. Certainly the first Mesozoic exhibit I went to as a child (the AMNH before its remodelling in the ?? 1980s ?? 1990s ??) was like this: centre of the hall featured a “Brontosaurus” flanked by smaller dinosaurs (a Stegosaurus, an Allosaurus bending over a partial sauropod vertebral column), all on a surface of (reproduced?) dinosaur footprints. If you wanted a synapsid, well, there was a Dimetrodon (one side of one visible– specimen embedded in real or reproduced matrix) in a case on one wall, and a Moschops and some smaller Therapsid (maybe a Lycaenops, maybe a cynodont: large-dog size) in cases down at the end of the hall near the fossil fish alcove. Unless you already knew what to look for, it was a lot easier to be impressed by the dinosaurs.

  10. 16 mattvr 21/04/2012 at 5:35 am

    Big, Dangerous, Dead.

    They’re a combination of mystery(not here), awe(bigness) and complete safety(being dead and all)

  11. 17 Mados 21/04/2012 at 6:34 am

    Dinosaur are mythical creatures, that’s why! They are the scientific versions of the dragons from the fairy tales.

  12. 18 Michael Buchwitz 21/04/2012 at 9:52 am

    Mythical, dragon-like creatures, some gigantic, extinct, a diverse group, a hype feeding itself, a popular name which has a meaning for everybody, the (conventional) symbolic popular meaning of dinosaurs: large und powerful but dumb and therefore rightfully extinct.

    Why are children apt to learn about dinosaurs? Because in this way they can easily create an own world closed to (most) adults but unlike pokémons dinosaurs are real. Unlike other fossil groups dinosaurs have a history of popularization, so it is easy to gain more information once you have started.

    Furthermore, the dinosaur field of knowledge is large enough to keep your attention. There is need to switch to archosaurs as a whole or fossil vertebrates as a whole because there is so much to learn about dinosaurs.

    Why are dinosaurs preferred to other fossil groups? The others are either not as complex/ character-rich and close to ourselves (see trilobites) or not perceived as variegated in terms of morphology and ecology (see pterosaurs). Dinosaurs are unique in certain ways (no other land animals could reach such large body sizes, gave rise to birds and were so full of modern mammal analoga).

    Perhaps dinosaurs were embraced by earlier generations of palaeontologists because they felt that dinosaurs gave them an identity which was not shared or invaded by neontologists (non-palaeo biologists).

  13. 19 Paul W. 21/04/2012 at 3:35 pm

    Well, what would a list of some fossil species that deserved more attention from the media look like? I’d argue that some do get a reasonable amount of attention and even amongst the dinosaurs, there is a distinct hierarchy with Tyrannosaurs traditionally at the very top and Asia-American species getting more coverage in general.

    It all depends on the spin that can be put on any given discovery and I think the media gets sucked in to thinking any dinosaur discovered amounts to another big ‘ugly’ brute despite what is presented right in front of them.

    For me, I think Mosasaurs are vastly under-sold being not as big as the biggist pliosaurs and seem to be fairly close to modern lizards.

  14. 20 Amas 21/04/2012 at 3:56 pm

    I’m kind of surprised this question is being asked on a blog about dinosaurs (and on occasion other archosaurs). Surely you understand why dinosaurs are more popular than other extinct groups. You do study them after all yes?
    As others pointed out, most other extinct groups are just less impressive. Sure, gorgonopsids were big, weird and toothy but dinosaurs were bigger, weirder and toothier. As for mammals, they’re still alive. I mean, mammoths are great, but we have elephants. I was recently talking to a girl at work about the exciting prospect of cloning a mammoth. Her response was “why? they’re just elephants”. Most extinct mammals have living relatives who are the dominant large animals on the planet. Why get excited about saber cats when we have lions? Why get excited about the Irish elk when we have moose? Even strange mammals like glyptodons and giant sloths have living relatives. I’m not saying the extinct forms don’t excite me, I’m just looking at it from public perspective.
    Ammonites? Seriously? Since when was any invertebrate as well received by the public as any tetrapod alive or dead. Of course the inverts aren’t going to generate dinosaur level excitement. There is a reason you’re a dinosaur paleontologist and the name of this blog is not “Early Triassic Terebratulid Brachiopod Musings”. And again, most extinct inverts have living relatives.
    As for pterosaurs and marine reptiles. I would argue that pterosaurs are just as popular as dinosaurs since they’re generally lumped with them. There are few toy sets, books or movies that don’t include them. The marine reptiles while interesting have been replaced by equally interesting marine animals…cetaceans. Sharks too. Plus, marine animals are restricted to the sea. There is something sexy about giant reptiles that actually walked on the same ground as you, you can relate to something like that.
    Dinosaurs are just more charismatic than most groups.They were giant reptiles that lived for 160 million years and spawned thousands of unusual species unlike anything alive before or since. They dominated the planet (like mammals do now) and without their extinction we probably would not be here. There is no comparison between them and any other extinct group, no matter how hard you try to make one. Enough said.

    • 21 David Hone 21/04/2012 at 4:26 pm

      “Surely you understand why dinosaurs are more popular than other extinct groups. You do study them after all yes?”

      Yes. But I don’t study their impact in popular culture or with the public and I know for a fact the average punter is not bothered about greater trochanters or posterior carinae. And indeed if you speak to researchers you’ll see they all eulagise about their own speciality, so the fact that I do study dinosaurs and like them is hardly a good measure of whether or not what I think is cool about them is the same as millions of lay people. I’m the very anthesis of an unbiased observer on this.

      “I would argue that pterosaurs are just as popular as dinosaurs since they’re generally lumped with them. There are few toy sets, books or movies that don’t include them. ”

      But they include one token pterosaur, and they are very rarely the focus. As noted elsewhere here by others and myself, the pterosaurs and marine reptiles simply do not get the same attention as the dinosaurs *even though* they often are perceived as dinosaurs. So in fact your explanation that just being big, cools, dominating extinct reptiles fails for these groups. Which was part of my original point.

      • 22 Amas 22/04/2012 at 2:10 am

        I don’t study the impact of dinosaurs on popular culture either but by simply being a member of society I notice it as you must have as well, at least prior to making dinosaurs a profession. There is a reason you got into dinosaur paleontology and I venture to guess that as a youngster you must have been as enchanted with them as most lay people are. By simply being able to relate to other people you should see what their appeal is over other extinct animals.
        As for the pterosaurs, of course they only include one, how many representatives do you need? As diverse as pterosaurs were they weren’t as diverse from each other as a Stegosaurus is from a Tyrannosaurus is from a Brachiosaurus. And on that same note, one could equally argue why don’t most media include one than more sauropod? Stegosaur? Ceratopsid? Because once you’ve addressed one there is no need for another, especially when there are other options still available. If I was a child and I got a set of toy dinosaurs that included three pterosaurs and sacrificed a Triceratops…I would be pissed. You only need one representative from each group. The token pterosaur is no different from the token stegosaur (Stegosaurus) or token ceratopsid (Triceratops).
        As for the marine reptiles, I addressed them in my first post. By simply being aquatic they are doomed from ever being as popular as terrestrial dinosaurs. In addition to being aquatic they’ve also been replaced by equally awe inspiring cetaceans and sharks. Dinosaurs have not been adequately replaced by anything comparable, especially when it comes to size. That makes them more alien and thus more interesting.

      • 23 David Hone 22/04/2012 at 9:04 am

        “There is a reason you got into dinosaur paleontology and I venture to guess that as a youngster you must have been as enchanted with them as most lay people are.”

        Actually no. As I’ve said on here and elsewhere before, I was never that interested in them – no more than many other prehistoric animals and rather less than living things. I fell into dinosaurs more or less by chance.

        “As for the pterosaurs, of course they only include one, how many representatives do you need?”

        Well if, as you claim, they are every bit as popular as dinosaurs then they should get a lot more representation. Why not several, or whole sets devoted to them? Or more books – there have been 4 decent books devoted to pterosaurs ever and a handful of kiddie books. Dinosaurs? About that every year or so. No they are not as diverse as dinosaurs, but Pteranodon is very, very different to Rhamphorhynchus, and yet you regularly get books that will feature Tyrannosaurs and Gorgorsaurus and Albertosaurs despite their being little between them.

        You also seem to miss the point in general – I do recognise that dinosaurs have some things going for them that others do not (they were big, weird, etc.) BUT I do not think that explains the colossal discrepancy between their popualrity and any other fossil group. Am I surprised they’re more popular than trilobites? No, of course not. Am I surprised that even amazing trilobites with trident noses or stalk eyes, or minature forms can’t get a one line mention in the media when even new dinosaurs represented by half a jaw get colour spreads? Yes.

  15. 24 Amas 22/04/2012 at 10:23 pm

    “Well if, as you claim, they are every bit as popular as dinosaurs then they should get a lot more representation. Why not several, or whole sets devoted to them? Or more books – there have been 4 decent books devoted to pterosaurs ever and a handful of kiddie books. Dinosaurs? About that every year or so. No they are not as diverse as dinosaurs, but Pteranodon is very, very different to Rhamphorhynchus, and yet you regularly get books that will feature Tyrannosaurs and Gorgorsaurus and Albertosaurs despite their being little between them.”

    The same reason you don’t get several or whole sets or entire books regarding any of the particular groups of dinosaurs. All the dinosaurs at the suborder or family level suffer the same as pterosaurs do. How many books, toy sets, documentaries treat only stegosaurs or sauropods? Because the media regards pterosaurs as dinosaurs they are treated the same as any subset of dinosaurs.
    Without having a vast collection of books on hand I feel confident saying the majority of them probably include both Pteranodon and Rhamphorhynchus…and Dimorphodon and Quetzalcoatlus and Pterodactylus and probably others as well. The books I had as a kid did anyway. I will agree that there are few good books on pterosaurs specifically, I don’t know how much of that is due to popularity or necessity. How many do we need? How many pterosaurs have even been described? 110 according to the pterosaur blog…compare that to what? 1000 dinosaurs? How many pterosaurs are discovered each year compared to dinosaurs? Given how many species of pterosaurs we know about and how little we actually know about them I would say their exposure is right on par with any particular group of dinosaurs. This blog is called Archosaur Musings but deals primarily with dinosaurs (I’m a long time reader). Why is that? Why don’t you give other Archosaurs as much exposure? I don’t actually need answers to that, I already know.

    “You also seem to miss the point in general – I do recognise that dinosaurs have some things going for them that others do not (they were big, weird, etc.) BUT I do not think that explains the colossal discrepancy between their popualrity and any other fossil group. Am I surprised they’re more popular than trilobites? No, of course not. Am I surprised that even amazing trilobites with trident noses or stalk eyes, or minature forms can’t get a one line mention in the media when even new dinosaurs represented by half a jaw get colour spreads? Yes.”

    I’m not surprised…not at all. What is even the strangest trilobite compared to a piece of jaw from an animal that could eat you…in the mind of the public at least. Trilobites are awesome; not arguing there, but strange arthropods are common place even today. Invertebrates are just a strange group as it is and they’re everywhere, honestly we take them for granted. Dinosaurs though, as I pointed out before…there is nothing else like them alive or dead. I think it is you who are missing the point. This question does not need asking, the answers should be obvious. They are to me at least.

    • 25 David Hone 23/04/2012 at 7:35 am

      “The same reason you don’t get several or whole sets or entire books regarding any of the particular groups of dinosaurs. ”

      Err, actually you do – while not common there are books dedicated to theropods or sasuropos etc. Mike Benton wrote a whole series of them in the 90s. And for ‘token’ pterosurs I was specifically referring to model sets rather than books. And even those books that do, yes, include half a dozen species of pterosaur they also generally include Dimetrodon and Eryops and the like. So again, pterosaurs are not marked out as you suggest.

      • 26 Amas 23/04/2012 at 3:04 pm

        I didn’t say books about specific groups of dinosaurs were non-existent, I was comparing them to books on pterosaurs. To the best of my knowledge there are only two serious books about ceratopsians and sauropods specifically. I can only think of one about stegosaurs and ankylosaurs. You said there are four specifically about pterosaurs but as I mentioned in my last post there really is not a need for new pterosaur books to be flying off the press the same as dinosaur books do.
        When it comes to pterosaurs our knowledge of them is scant compared to dinosaurs. We know of 110 pterosaurs compared to thousands of dinosaurs. We have a far greater understanding of dinosaur diversity, evolution, lifestyles, distribution etc. than we do for pterosaurs. Considering all this they’re doing pretty good in popularity. I recently watched the new BBC pterosaur documentary. If they are so downtrodden compared to dinosaurs than were are the documentaries on ceratopsians? I’ve never seen a documentary or toy set devoted to horned dinosaurs specifically. You want them to achieve equal attention as the whole of dinosauria, it just is not going to happen and really it cannot happen. They were secondary players in the Mesozoic, it stand to reason they will remain secondary players in popularity.

      • 27 David Hone 23/04/2012 at 3:48 pm

        There are four books on pterosaurs since 1901. That is very, very rare. And one of them won’t be out till late this year – it’s not actually even published yet. While there’s not tons of specialist books for dinosaur groups there are a lot more than 4.

        “We know of 110 pterosaurs compared to thousands of dinosaurs”
        Not quite. They are a lot more diverse, but it’s more like 180ish to 1600ish in terms of species.

        “You want them to achieve equal attention as the whole of dinosauria, it just is not going to happen and really it cannot happen. They were secondary players in the Mesozoic, it stand to reason they will remain secondary players in popularity.”

        And again, I didn’t say they wouldn’t be. But the discrepancy is still more than would be expected.

  16. 28 Amas 23/04/2012 at 8:48 pm

    “There are four books on pterosaurs since 1901. That is very, very rare. And one of them won’t be out till late this year – it’s not actually even published yet. While there’s not tons of specialist books for dinosaur groups there are a lot more than 4.”

    I’m excited to hear there is a new one on the way, I didn’t know that. As for the specialist dinosaur books, we’ll just have to disagree. As I said before, where ceratopsians are concerned I’m only aware of two fairly technical books on the subject. You say there are more than four but I don’t buy it. Maybe more than four where all sub-orders and families are concerned but not for any one particular group.

    “Not quite. They are a lot more diverse, but it’s more like 180ish to 1600ish in terms of species.”

    I got that figure from pterosaur.net, you are a contributor so that figure might be something you want to change if it is so far off. Between 180-1600? Is that a typo? There is quite a difference there.

    “And again, I didn’t say they wouldn’t be. But the discrepancy is still more than would be expected.”

    Not by me…what else can I say?

    • 29 David Hone 24/04/2012 at 9:49 am

      Well pterosaurs have jumped massively since we put that site up, so my 180 is a guess. We now get about 1 new pterosaur a month and have done for about 5 years so it’s constantly growing.

      Dinosaurs are at about 1600, so something like 8:1 as a diversity ratio whcih while far from high is much less than ‘110 pterosaurs compared to thousands of dinosaurs’ which implies 20 or 30:1 or even more.

  17. 30 Greg Leitich Smith 23/04/2012 at 9:17 pm

    I think at least one reason dinosaurs are more popular than pterosaurs and marine reptiles is that they, and we, are terrestrial and possibly we have a more visceral reaction to land-based dangers than other kinds (Yes, I’m verging on pseudo-science here, but…).

    We can more easily envision the consequences of encountering a T.rex or pack of Utahraptors (or even a herd of hadrosaurs), partly because encountering dangerous terrestrial predators (or herds of herbivores) for us today is more likely than encountering aerial or aquatic ones. (Yes, people have a thing about sharks, but it’s relatively easy to avoid them, particularly if you live inland).

    But dinosaurs also sort of read like a Greek tragedy in which the greatest sin is hubris. After all, they were the biggest and baddest, and now they’re gone. Suddenly. (Yes, pterosurs and the marine reptiles died at the same time, but in the popular representations, it’s always “dinosaurs who ruled the world”).

    I have a theory that it’s sort of like our fascination with the Titanic. I mean, other large ships have sunk, too, but they’re usually not associated with the adjective “unsinkable” or the catchphrase “God herself couldn’t sink her.” (Granted, these were applied only after the sinking, iirc, but I don’t think that detracts from the point).

    OTOH, why are lions more popular than lobsters? :-)

  18. 31 John Scanlon, FCD 07/05/2012 at 3:45 pm

    “…because they’re the nearest thing we have to aliens.”

    And aliens would be as popular as dinosaurs if they were really known to exist; if anyone, almost anywhere, could find remains of one (or part of an alien spaceship) if they happened to kick over the right rock; if kids on camps and directors in Hollywood could scare each other with tales of abduction, probing and skull-popping, secure in the knowledge that the scary aliens were actually real, but really harmless now.

    Or in other words, because dinosaurs are the nearest thing we have to gods, only better.

    It may be useful to see the popularity of dinosaurs as akin to a religion. They have many intrinsic reasons for attracting attention and popularity, but the great discoveries took place in a particular place and time, which happened to be in the leading nations of the global economy and infosphere during the second half of the 19th century. This also happened to be a time of increasing secularism and skepticism in Europe and the US (later reversed in the latter when religions got a better business model), and believing in their relics was no great leap of faith – they were displayed right there in the great cathedrals of knowledge. And it was one of the world religions from the start, not limited to some local inbred tribe but popping up on every continent, with a ready-made priesthood eager for public acclaim (and secular power; vide Owen, Marsh).

    Compared to pterosaurs and other extinct oddities, dinosaurs remain disproportionately popular now because they’ve got a massive head start, in terms of popular appreciation and ‘understanding’. (To switch metaphors, they’re the Coke of colas, or the QWERTY of keyboards; a hard market to break into, at this point.)


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