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Literature / The New Dinosaurs: An Alternative Evolution

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A 1988 book, written by Scottish geologist Dougal Dixon about what life on Earth would be like if the Cretaceous extinction event never occurred and dinosaurs still ruled the Earth. It is a Spiritual Successor to Dixon's previous Speculative Biology book, After Man: A Zoology of the Future, and is presented in a very similar way.

This book provides examples of:

  • All Flyers Are Birds: Nearly all the pterosaur species are near carbon-copies of some modern or near-modern bird species. The Flarp is an ostrich, the Sift and the Paraso are herons (the Paraso specifically resembling and acting like the black heron), the Harridan is an eagle, the Kloon and Wandle are moas, the Soar are albatross, the Plunger is a penguin, the Shorerunners are seagulls. The Lank is the only one that's evolved into a non-bird analogue (a giraffe).
  • Alternate History: Prehistory, but the same thing applies. The book asks the question of what might live on Earth if the K-Pg extinction event did not occur (at the time, what caused the extinction was a matter of debate and the book goes with the interpretation it was gradual climate change, but nowadays, it's universally agreed upon an asteroid impact was the main, if not sole cause).
  • Alternate-History Dinosaur Survival: The entire book attempts to examine what life on Earth might be like in the present day if the K-Pg extinction event did not occur and dinosaurs still ruled the planet.
  • Anachronistic Animal:
    • For some reason, there are Megalosaurus in the present day. In Africa (Megalosaurus went extinct in the Middle Jurassic - of Europe - long before its fellow dinosaurs died out). Megalosaurus was long used as wastebasket to contain various large theropods from throughout the Mesozoic, but this had mostly been sorted out by then. There were fragmentary fossils assigned to Megalosaurus from Madagascar but they were reclassified as Majungasaurus in 1955 (more complete material was found in the '90s, allowing it to be identified as an abelisaur).
    • The Whulk and Pelorus are future pliosaurs, but its group went extinct near the beginning of the Late Cretaceous (this was partly due to at the time, all short-necked plesiosaurs were considered pliosaurs, but we know now short necks evolved more than once from long-necked plesiosaurs).
    • Most of the pterosaurs have teeth, even though all the toothed pterosaurs had died out by the Late Cretaceous.
  • Aquatic Hadrosaurs: The Bricket is a lambeosaurine hadrosaur that lives in dense woodlands. However, as ticks and other sorts of parasites tend to live off from them, Brickets would often submerge themselves in watery bodies to wash said parasites away from them. It is also when submerged in water where Brickets mate with one another.
  • Armless Biped: The Gourmand, a highly-derived future tyrannosaur which inhabits the South American pampas. Some pterosaurs, like the Kloon, also evolved to be flightless herbivores with highly atrophied wings, evoking this trope.
  • Artistic License – Biology: Similar to Dixon's other work, After Man: A Zoology of the Future.
    • There's also Dixon's repeated insistence that birds are not dinosaurs, particularly showing non-avian dinosaurs in niches that more likely would be occupied by avian dinosaurs. Case in point: the creepy-looking Gimp, a tiny arboreal theropod with long gangly naked limbs and a tubular snout that feeds on nectar. You know, as in a hummingbird, but featherless and way uglier? (To be fair, the idea of birds being surviving dinosaurs was still relatively new at the time.)
    • Dixon also states that the Arctic tundra is too cold for dinosaurs, before showing the native residents, the mammoth-like Tromble, which is a giant flightless bird. Also, fossils of Late Cretaceous dinosaurs have been discovered in the Arctic, which would have been pretty cold even at the time.
    • The Plunger is an aquatic flightless pterosaur that fills the niche of penguins. Except the ancestors of penguins already existed as aquatic loon-like birds during the end of the Late Cretaceous, so had dinosaurs never gone extinct, the niche of penguins would be filled by...penguins (or the already preexisting hesperornithes, which were flightless, marine birds like penguins).
    • Wandles, kloons, flarps and shorerunners are all flightless pterosaurs that walk bipedally, with the wandle and kloon having lost their forelimbs altogether. Trouble is, pterosaurs are quadrupedal, using their wings to walk and launch into the air, making the giraffe-like Lank more plausible than any of the other flightless pterosaurs.
    • As for the Lank, while its anatomy is surprisingly accurate (besides the fact that it walks on the end of its fourth finger that supports its wing membrane, despite pterosaurs walking on their first three fingers in life), its lifestyle as a herbivorous grazer is rather questionable, given the abundance of herbivorous dinosaurs as competition. More believably, it would be a ground-dwelling omnivore similar to hornbills, which feed on small vertebrates and insects as well as seeds and fruit.
    • For some bizarre reason, the Wyrms are long snake-like coelurosaurs that fill the niche of lizards and snakes. Even though such niches are far more likely to be occupied by actual lizards and snakes...did all the squamates suddenly become extinct for no reason? This is also partly evident with the presence of pliosaurs, which in reality became extinct at the beginning of the Late Cretaceous and were replaced by the lizard-descended mosasaurs. Mosasaurs are shown to have survived in the phylogenetic tree in the foreword but are not depicted or mentioned afterwards.
    • The coconut grab is a semi-terrestrial ammonite which can crawl on land and mostly eats coconuts (an obvious Fantastic Fauna Counterpart of the coconut crab). Crawling on land to forage isn't unheard of among cephalopods, but eating any sort of plant matter is. All known cephalopod species, living or extinct, are exclusively carnivorous (and almost all of them consume only live prey at that).
    • The jinx is a dromaeosaur which hunts by disguising itself as the herbivorous coneater, sneaking into their herds undetected to spring a surprise attack later. No known predatory vertebrate hunts like this, for a simple reason: the anatomy of a specialized carnivore is way too different from the anatomy of a herbivore to work (the book was published long before later discoveries showed that dromaeosaurs were extremely bird-like, so the jinx's appearance looks very little like a real dromaeosaur).
    • The tromble is a giant, flightless bird (said to be ten feet tall) that is so massive that it has evolved pillar-like, elephantine legs to support its weight. Real life flightless birds, such as the recently extinct moas and elephant birds, reached similar heights, but did not need special leg anatomy to support themselves (never mind multi-ton non-avian theropods which still had sleek digitigrade limbs).
    • The whiffle is a small tundra-dwelling bird which has lost the powers of flight because it only hunts ground-dwelling insects. Such a small bird losing the power of flight in such a cold, resource-poor environment would be a really detrimental evolution since it wouldn't be able to migrate. Its entry does not explain what it eats in the winter.
    • By the present day, the hadrosaurs have evolved into a new family known as the sprintosaurs. However, it's stated that both crested hadrosaurs (lambeosaurines) and non-crested hadrosaurs (saurolophines) evolved into sprintosaurs. Despite evolving from different ancestors, they are still classed in the same sprintosaur family, which is not how biological taxonomy works.
    • The bricket is said to be able to rid itself of skin parasites simply by submerging itself in water. In reality, this is unlikely to work as skin parasites such as ticks, lice, and fleas can survive underwater for several hours or even days. For ticks, it's especially egregious because they don't move at all once embedded in a host, so they couldn't flee even if they wanted to.
    • The debaril is a small ornithopod which is able to conserve body heat in the winter by squashing its body up to reduce surface area. Dinosaurs, unlike mammals, had very vertically inflexible bodies, so they wouldn't be able to bunch up their spine like that.
    • Some dinosaurs are depicted with a shaggy integument which is called fur or hair. Fur/hair are an exclusively mammalian (or technically synapsid, if you choose to be more specific) trait. Dinosaur integument should be called feathers (the book seems to err towards skepticism towards the dinosaur-bird connection so it's barely acknowledged).
    • The coneater is said to be insulated against the winter chill due to "its wrinkles and folds of fat". Having very wrinkly skin is a good way to lose heat, not retain it, since it increases the amount of surface area for which heat can escape from the body. Why it doesn't instead have fur/hair/feathers to keep itself warm is not mentioned.
    • The northclaw is a predator that's evolved to kill prey with one massive, misshaped claw on its right hand. It's not explained why it only has one claw on one hand rather than a giant claw on both hands (such as those known from dinosaurs like Baryonyx or Megaraptor).
    • The gimps are a type of nectar-drinking dinosaur like a featherless, flightless hummingbird with a mouth evolved into a tube that can only lick up nectar. However, even specialized nectarivores like hummingbirds still need to eat other food like insects or pollen because nectar doesn't have enough nutrients to survive on — since it's literally only sugar and water, additional things like vitamins and proteins need to come from somewhere else. It would also be incredibly difficult for the gimp species to each survive on only one species of flower, especially since they cannot fly to search far and wide for flowers (even the most specialized hummingbird species can choose between multiple species of flower).
    • In the gourmand's entry it's stated that its hips "swung forward" to help balance its long, low-slung body. What this is supposed to mean isn't shown because there's a structure known as the "ribcage" which is in front of the pelvis that would prevent it from moving forward.
    • The wandle and the kloon. They're clearly meant as expies of the moas, but are depicted as totally defenceless because they have absolutely no predators. As large herbivores, there would have to be some kind of predator in their ecosystem to keep their numbers in check, especially in an environment as large as New Zealand (indeed, the moas were hunted by the massive Haast's eagle and are believed to have been exceptionally fast runners).
    • Similar to After Man, the book tends to generalize the ancestors of many species, to the point that their ancestor could basically be any theropod or any ornithopod. This makes it next to impossible to actually try and determine the evolution of many animals, particularly the pterosaurs, none of which have any classification beyond "pterodactyloid", which is about as vague as saying a giraffe is a placental mammal.
    • The taranter is an ankylosaur which has a turtle-like shell evolved from fused osteoderms stated to help it conserve moisture in its desert environment. This explanation doesn't make much sense though, because dinosaurs are reptiles, and reptiles don't sweat, so it wouldn't lose moisture through its skin either way. We also have plenty of fossils of ankylosaurs from arid desert habitats further indicating no such need for this sort of adaptation.
    • The Glub and the Watergulp in particular are fully aquatic hypsilophodonts that reproduce viviparously. While certain reptiles like a few snake species are known to give birth this way, no dinosaurs, extinct or living, have been known to reproduce in this manner, and all of them exclusively lay eggs (as do all modern crocodilians, birds, and turtles, the three groups considered most closely related to non-avian dinosaurs).
  • Artistic License – Paleontology:
    • The book shows Megalosaurus modernus, a Living Relic still existing on the island of Madagascar (likely referencing how the local lemurs are "living fossils" compared to mainland simians). While Megalosaurus used to be a major wastebasket taxon, which included fragmentary fossils found in Late Cretaceous rocks in Madagascar, by the '80s this was no longer the case, and the Madagascar fossils were reclassified as Majungasaurus back in 1955 (though it wasn't recognized as an abelisaurid until more complete remains were found in the '90s).
    • It's claimed that hadrosaurs never ventured into South America in the Cretaceous, even though the Argentinian Secernosaurus koerneri and "Kritosaurus australis" (now Huallasaurus australis) were described in 1979 and 1984 respectively.
    • In Africa, pterosaurs are depicted as having outcompeted herbivorous dinosaurs such as ornithopods and sauropods because the latter didn't manage to reach the continent in time. Even though several sauropods were already known from Africa at the time, most famously the Late Jurassic fauna of Tendaguru such as Dicraeosaurus, Tornieria, and the African Brachiosaurus (now Giraffatitan), whose fossils have been known since the 1910s, and the Mid Cretaceous iguanodont Ouranosaurus'' was also described in 1976, so it was already confirmed that large plant-eating dinosaurs inhabited Africa throughout the Mesozoic.
  • Dumb Dinos: The book was made during a transitionary period between the view that dinosaurs were moronic, evolutionary failures, and the dinosaur renaissance, and it shows. Nothing remotely as intelligent as modern day apes, corvids, elephants, or parrots appears, and the closing afterword poo-poos the idea that dinosaurs could ever evolve beyond being savage, instinct-driven beasts. The large predators in particular are depicted as being slow, unintelligent scavengers.
  • Evolutionary Stasis: Downplayed. While all of the animals depicted have obviously evolved, it's frequently noted how little most of them have changed since the end of the Mesozoic Era and most of the differences are merely superficial. This can largely be chalked up to science marching on, as dinosaur evolution was very poorly understood in the 1980s, and the book is filled with dated "facts" now known to be misconceptions.
  • Fantastic Fauna Counterpart: Many of the book's imaginary animals are extremely obviously based on real animals in appearance, behaviour, and often living in the same locations. The Lank are giraffe-like pterosaurs (even with giraffe colours and living in Africa), Plungers are penguin-pterosaurs, Tubb are koala-dinosaurs (yes, they eat only eucalyptus and live in Australia), Watergulps are manatee-dinosaurs, Pangaloons are, well, pangolin-dinosaurs and the Gestalt are mole rat-dinosaurs to name a few.
  • Gentle Giant Sauropod: The lumber and the turtosaur are depicted as being so utterly passive, they don't fight back even when threatened by predators much smaller than them. The lumber relies on its size and thick skin for defence, while the turtosaur hunkers down and relies on its turtle-like shell.
  • Harping on About Harpies: The Harridan, a condor-like pterosaur from the Andes, brings this trope to mind with its appeareance and slightly upright stance. its scientific name, Harpyia latala, is even a straight reference to harpies. Its main hunting method consists of snatching its unsuspecting prey from the ground below, likely referencing harpies snatching away food from mortals to punish them for their misdeeds.
  • Hook Hand: The Northclaw is a biological variant of this trope, with one grotesquely huge claw on its right hand.
  • Horn Attack: The Monocorn is a descendant of ceratopsians with a huge, single horn on its nose that is native to the Great Plains. It is quite similar to its ancestors in habits and appearance.
  • In Spite of a Nail:
    • All the ecozones and biome arrangements of the Earth's continents are still exactly the same as in our timeline despite the vast differences in flora and fauna. In many cases, the animals living in the environments are also extremely similar to those in our timeline, like koala and kangaroo dinosaurs living in Australia, bison and deer-like dinosaurs in North America, elephant-like sauropods in India, giraffe and ostrich pterosaurs living in Africa, moa-like pterosaurs in New Zealand, and sabre-tooth cat and glyptodont-like dinosaurs living in South America.
    • Despite the fact there was no extinction event in this timeline, dromaeosaurs still suddenly became extinct at the K-Pg boundary. The reason why is not specified.
  • Irony: Of a sort - the Gourmand, a gigantic scavenger native to South America that has lost its arms entirely, is described as being a type of tyrannosaur, whose ancestors migrated to South America and wiped out the native predators. There is a family of giant theropods that seemed to be evolving away their arms in the fossil records, however — the abelisaurs, some of whom were native to South America.
  • Lost World: The island of Madagascar, isolated from the rest of the world since the Mesozoic, has some primitive dinosaurs like megalosaurs and titanosaurs which look identical to their prehistoric counterparts.
  • Kangaroos Represent Australia: A very bizarre example with iguanodonts known as the Gwanna being Australian kangaroo analogues that also hop like kangaroos. There is also the Tubb, a very blatant Fantastic Fauna Counterpart of the koala, which inexplicably also happens to live in Australia, making it seem like Australia's very geology forces the evolution of kangaroos and koalas, just because.
  • Kraken and Leviathan:
    • The Kraken is portrayed as a gigantic-sized descendant of Ammonites with a large shell that is usually seen from the water surface, often serving as a perching spot for birds and pterosaurs. While it doesn't target human ships, it's still a free-drifting predator that uses its long, skinny tentacles as a trap for microscopic food and fishes. Certain plesiosaurs can kill it, however.
    • On the Leviathan side there's the Whulk, a gargantuan-sized descendant of pliosaurs that evolved to fulfill the same role as baleen whales, being a filter-feeder.
  • Laid-Back Koala: The Tubb is a small arboreal ornithopod which is basically a carbon-copy of the koala, and is similarly described as clumsy-looking and sluggish. It has no way to flee from predators or any physical defences; it relies on its distasteful flesh, gained from a diet of eucalyptus leaves, to protect it.
  • Meek Mesozoic Mammal: It's made clear that the continued dominance of the dinosaurs has prevented any possible diversification of mammals, and they have all remained small and rodent-like. Only one mammal gets any focus, the desman-like zwim, although unnamed mammals appear as generic prey animals in a few other entries.
  • Mimic Species: The jinx is a saurornithoid species which resembles and acts like the herbivorous coneater (note that this was before saurornithoids, now known as troodontids, having feathered wings was known), intermingling with their herds for extended periods, until its pack mate attacks, at which point it attacks and kills another coneater in the confusion.
  • Playing Possum: The springe is a saurornithoid species which pretends to be a bloated, putrefied corpse to attract scavenging birds and pterosaurs, which it preys on.
  • Raptor Attack: As this was written before Jurassic Park, dromaeosaurs are given little coverage, and are shown in the cladogram to have gone extinct at the K-Pg boundary (why is not clear, because the entire premise is that no extinction event occurred then), although two species of "saurornithoids" (now known as troodontids) are shown which fill the same gap, the Springe and the Jinx. On the bright side, it is probably the first piece of media to depict them with down (although it's considered fur rather than feathers).
  • Right Hand of Doom: The Northclaw has, fittingly enough, an enlarged claw on its right arm which it uses to deal the killing blow to its prey.
  • Scary Teeth: The Cutlasstooth, seen in the book's cover, a bipedal, pack-hunting monstrosity with a head reminiscent of a Dunkleosteus. There's a good reason it earned that name.
  • Scavengers Are Scum: The megalosaur and the gourmand are depicted as obligate scavengers, and the text emphasizes these carnivores as gluttonous, unintelligent, monstrous, and loathsome (the book was written when the hypothesis that Tyrannosaurus only scavenged was gaining steam, but the idea is thoroughly debunked nowadays).
  • Speculative Biology: One of the most famous examples, showing a very popular hypothetical situation of what might evolve if the K-Pg extinction event did not occur.
  • Speculative Documentary: The book takes a lot of time discussing general ecology, biotic interactions, the history of life, evolution, and dinosaur knowledge (as it was known at the time), arguably more than even the made-up animals, as some entries talk more about the environment in which the animal lives than the animal itself.
  • Stock Animal Behavior: The aptly named Birdsnatcher is a species of plesiosaur that specializes in snatching pterosaurs out of the sky...even though that is physically impossible in real life.
  • Terrestrial Sea Life: The coconut grab is a species of amphibious ammonite that lives much of its life crawling on land, feeding on coconuts. How it breathes or keeps itself moist out of the water (as its obvious inspiration, the coconut crab, does) isn't mentioned.
  • A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing: The Jinx is a species of dromaeosaur which strongly resembles the herbivorous Coneaters. One Jinx infiltrates the herd and mingles amongst them for a while until a second Jinx attacks, at which point the first Jinx pounces as the herd is distracted.

Alternative Title(s): The New Dinosaurs