BLOG: Asteroid was dinosaurs' scapegoat

Mel Barber

If The Land Before Time animated film series has taught me anything, it's that:

A) Dinosaur babies are adorable, intrepid explorers.

B) Dinosaurs will never die.

After seemingly gasping its last breath with a 13th film in 2007, The Land Before Time pulled itself out of the dustbin earlier this year with Journey of the Brave, a 14th adventure for the little reptiles who will never grow up.

The real dinosaurs, it turns out, wouldn't have been nearly so resilient. Ages ago — not quite the Jurassic or Cretaceous, but close enough — when I was in school, the science chapter on dinosaurs concluded with "and an asteroid hit the Earth and killed them all. The end."

But this month, researchers are disputing that theory. [Let's pause for scientists to go all, "Hold up, asteroid haters. Those dinosaurs are selling you a bill of long-necked, sharp-toothed goods."]

The dinosaurs weren't really ruling the Earth when that asteroid hit. They were already falling out of power, like the Western Roman Empire after the Visigoths sacked Rome.

Tiny mammals had gained a foothold sixty-five million years ago, and their star was on the rise. The dinos were on their way out. The asteroid helped them along, sure, but even without it, those massive beasts wouldn't have survived long enough to get construction jobs in the Flintstones or challenge King Kong for dominance in an epic battle of mammal vs. reptile.

For more about the science behind the dino decline, check out these fascinating articles from the LA Times and IFLScience.

And to go one step further — because hey, how DID those feathered dinosaurs survive to become birds? — read this article at IFLScience, too. You've seen the variety of beak-shapes in birds, right? Darwin's finches are the exemplar here; it's easy to understand how the beak evolves to match the food source. If you can't reach the food, you die before you pass on those genes.

Walk that back sixty-five million years, and you'll get to those lucky ducks [Note: Not actual ducks.], the feathered dinosaurs who could survive on seeds. The dino-birds with teeth? Dead now. The ones with beaks? A little smaller, a little lighter, their descendants are flying around the globe, making beautiful music in your trees and leaving a mess on your freshly washed car.

So stop blaming the asteroid for killing the dinosaurs. Dinosaurs are like Jedi masters. When you strike them down, they become more powerful than you can possibly imagine. Because dinosaurs will live forever.

You can trust me on this. I'm a grown woman who still drinks from The Land Before Time plastic cups.

A dinosaur enthusiast, animated-movie-watcher and grown woman empties her cupboard for science. For science! (And also probably a cold drink or four.)