Humans are proud of themselves. The guiding principle of the modern age is “Man is the measure of all things.” (real dinosaur costume) And our bodies have excited physiologists and philosophers to a profound awe of the basic mammalian design. But the history of the dinosaurs should teach us some humility. The basic equipment of our mammal class— warm bodies clothed in fur, milk-producing breasts to nourish our young—is quite ancient. These mammalian hallmarks are as old as the dinosaurs themselves. Indeed, the Class Mammalia emerged, fully defined, in the world ecosystems just as the Dinosauria began their spectacular expansion. If our fundamental mammalian mode of adaptation was superior to the dinosaurs’, then history should record the meteoric rise of the mammals and the eclipse of the dinosaurs. (animatronic dinosaur suit)Our own Class Mammalia did not seize the dominant position in life on land. Instead, the mammal clan was but one of many separate evolutionary families that succeeded as species only by taking refuge in small body size during the Age of Dinosaurs. As long as there were dinosaurs, a full 130 million years, remember, the warm-blooded league of furry mammals produced no species bigger than a cat. When the first dinosaur quarry was opened in 1822 at Stonesfield, England, quarry men found the oneton Megalosaurus and a tiny mammal.
So the popular image of dinosaurs as unprogressive behemoths is wrong. (animatronic dinosaur)Political cartoonists use Brontosaurus as the ultimate symbol of ignorant lethargy and obsolete organization. In fact, dinosaurs evolved quickly, changed repeatedly, and turned out wave after wave of new species with new adaptations all through their long reign. Sir Richard Owen, best and brightest of Victorian anatomists, coined the name “Dinosauria,” from Greek roots meaning “terrible lizard,” in 1842. When Owen first penned the word “dinosaurs,” paleontology was still a brand-new science. (life size dinoasur model)Baron Cuvier had invented the scholarly art of reconstructing form and function in fossil creatures only forty years earlier. Though careful study of the earth’s crusts had gone on for only one human generation, the naturalists of 1840 already knew that an Age of Reptiles had preceded our own Age of Mammals. And the many skeletons already dug up showed that this Age of Reptiles was a time when fishlike reptilian forms swam in the seas and batlike reptilian species flew through the air. Owen invented the term “Dinosauria” to describe the huge land animals of this age. And his original definition is still good.