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17 September 2014
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Dino food bowl

Over the past few weeks we've collected your questions relating to dinosaurs and asked our experts to answer them. Take a look at the most frequently asked questions:

  1. Why is the programme not called 'My Pet Human'? If the dinosaurs had not been wiped out, would humans still have been the dominant species? David Higham
  2. Considering the brains of dinosaurs were increasing as they evolved and birds are their descendants, why have birds' brains remained small? Mike Walker
  3. Wouldn't the ice age have wiped out quite a few dinosaur species anyway? Jon Dyer
  4. Which modern bird is most like what we think of as a 'classic' dinosaur? Nick Laurie
  5. Are there any ideas on what dinosaur meat would taste like? Would it vary significantly from carnivores to herbivores, or would it all taste like chicken? Matthew Woolridge
  6. What possibility - if any - is there of recreating a dinosaur from preserved DNA like in the film 'Jurassic Park'? James Mullineaux
  7. Why did dinosaurs develop into such large creatures and why are there no longer any land animals of a similar size alive today? Derek Moffett
Kristi Curry-Rogers

A hugely diverse group of dinosaurs still survives today.

Why is the programme not called 'My Pet Human'? If the dinosaurs had not been wiped out, would humans still have been the dominant species? David Higham

This film was an interesting experiment for those of us engaged in dinosaur science. We really had to 'suspend' all that we know about the reality of life as we know it now - erase all of the other vagaries of life for dinosaurs between the Cretaceous period and now - and imagine what it would really be like to live with dinosaurs in their Mesozoic forms. The chances are good that humans would not have ever become a dominant species if dinosaurs hadn't been wiped out at the end of the Cretaceous period. Mammals had been around just as long as dinosaurs, but didn't get their 'big break' until the K-T extinction event gave them a chance. The other really interesting thing to consider here is that, in terms of 'successful' or 'dominant' groups of animals, dinosaurs are among the best. Not all of them went extinct 65 million years ago. A hugely diverse group of dinosaurs still survives today that has exploited the sky, the sea (e.g. penguins), and even the land (e.g. ostriches). Compare that 'success' rate to that of humans. We've got a long way to go to really give dinosaurs a run for the money.

Kristi Curry-Rogers, Curator of Paleontology, Science Museum of Minnesota and Visiting Assistant Professor of Geology, Macalester College

Brent Breithaupt

Birds today are considered some of the most intelligent of all modern non-human animals.

Considering the brains of dinosaurs were increasing as they evolved and birds are their descendants, why have birds' brains remained small? Mike Walker

Mike, very insightful question. Remember, not all dinosaurs were increasing their brain size relative to their body size. However, the theropod dinosaurs did show an increase in brain size relative to their body size, and birds do have a relatively large and well-developed brain size relative to their body size. Birds today are considered some of the most intelligent of all modern non-human animals, right up there with dolphins and whales.

Brent Breithaupt, Paleontologist and Director University of Wyoming

Kristi Curry-Rogers

Dinosaurs have proven to be an extremely evolutionary flexible and innovative group of animals.

Brent Breithaupt

The large, flightless ground birds are good small theropod dinosaur examples.

Which modern bird is most like what we think of as a 'classic' dinosaur? Nick Laurie

Nick, very good question. However, what is a 'classic' dinosaur? T. rex? Triceratops? Diplodocus? Velociraptor? I like to think of the large, flightless ground birds like emus, cassowaries, and rheas as good small theropod dinosaur examples because of their feet and footprints. However, there are feathered dinosaurs like Archaeopteryx and those being found in Asia which would be a lot like various flying birds today. The Hoatzin from South America, is another form which may be 'dinosaur-like' as it has claws on its hands (wings) when young.

Brent Breithaupt, Paleontologist and Director University of Wyoming

Brent Breithaupt

Diets definitely affect how animals taste.

Are there any ideas on what dinosaur meat would taste like? Would it vary significantly from carnivores to herbivores, or would it all taste like chicken? Matthew Woolridge

That is a very good question, Matthew. As modern birds are dinosaurs, I imagine that non-avian (not bird) dinosaur meat might taste a bit like the meat of some of the large ground birds like emus and ostriches. Their meat is very lean and has a bit of a gamey taste. Alligators are a cousin to the dinosaurs and their meat tastes gamey as well, and somewhat bird like. Having tasted emu, ostrich, and alligator meat (which are all delicious), I would imagine that is the closest I would get to knowing what non-avian dinosaur meat tastes like. None of these actually tastes very chicken like, as all have a bit more of a wild game taste. Diets definitely affect how animals taste. So yes, the carnivores and herbivores would taste very different, just as herbivores and carnivores taste different today.

Brent Breithaupt, Paleontologist and Director University of Wyoming

Don Lessem

We don't have amber with blood-sucking mosquitoes from dinosaur times.

What possibility - if any - is there of recreating a dinosaur from preserved DNA like in the film 'Jurassic Park'? James Mullineaux

Great question. I'm afraid, and sometimes relieved, that we will never be able to bring dinosaurs back to life. We are already finding what may be tiny fragments of their DNA inside their bones but I don't think we will ever find the complete long sequence of that DNA code in a properly preserved condition to even begin to think about finding a way to bring them back to life. Certainly the 'Jurassic Park' way would not work. Remember, they got their DNA from mosquitoes that sucked dinosaur blood and were preserved in amber, then added frog DNA to the parts that were lacking. That doesn't work for many reasons. We don't have amber with blood-sucking mosquitoes from dinosaur times. If we did we couldn't tell whether the blood came from a dinosaur. And if we made up the many missing bits of dinosaur with a frog's DNA and cloned that, we'd have a 'frogasaur'!

Don Lessem, Freelance paleontologist, author and consultant

Brent Breithaupt

Non-avian dinosaurs appear to have had a unique physiology.

Why did dinosaurs develop into such large creatures and why are there no longer any land animals of a similar size alive today? Derek Moffett

Excellent question, Derek. I get asked this a lot. First, please keep in mind that many of the non-avian (not bird) dinosaurs were similar in size to modern-day animals, which ranged from wee, chicken-sized ones to large, elephant-sized animals. However, there were a number that reached enormous sizes. To reach those sizes the environment had to be conducive for animals getting so big. Basically, there has to be enough to eat. It also might relate to a certain level of continuing growth in these animals throughout a relatively long life span. Non-avian dinosaurs appear to have had a unique physiology (which is still under study) that may have allowed them to grow to such enormous sizes. There are many advantages to being big, such as protection from predators and temperature changes. Mega-herbivores and mega-carnivores around the sizes of the largest non-avaian dinosaurs may not be able to survive today, as environments and plants have changed.

Brent Breithaupt, Paleontologist and Director University of Wyoming


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