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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 world would be like if the meteor that killed the dinosaurs didn't hit 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. However, similar to his previous book, it suffers badly from the progress of science; its creatures are more fanciful than realistic nowadays (even back in the day they weren't exactly the most accurate dinos). Even so, its illustrations and descriptions are very good, depicting these nonexistent animals as if they were real.


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).
  • 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.
    • The Whulk and Pelorus are future pliosaurs, but its group went extinct near the beginning of the Late Cretaceous (this was partly due to Science Marches On; 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.
    • Many diverse varieties of pterosaurs are shown in the book, which takes place in an alternate Quaternary period. Trouble is, the pterosaurs were already in decline in the late Cretaceous, being outcompeted in most of their niches by birds and other flying maniraptorans. Had the asteroid never hit, most of the niches of Dixon's speculative pterosaurs would be more likely occupied by birds or related theropods, with pterosaurs reduced to a few marginal niches in isolated islands or regions— if not already outright extinct by then.
      • This is itself debatable now, as more recent evidence suggests that pterosaurs were still doing fine before the KT extinction, hadn't actually been reduced to a small number of large species, and hadn't experienced much niche overlap with birds.
    • 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.
    • 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.
    • 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).
    • 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.
  • Everything Is Better With Dinosaurs: This is basically the entire reason this book exists.
  • 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.
  • Fantastic Fauna Counterpart: Many of the book's imaginary animals are really easily seen to be based on real animals. The Lank are giraffe-like pterosaurs (even with giraffe colours), Plungers are penguin-pterosaurs, Tubb are koala-dinosaurs (yes, they live in Australia), Watergulps are manatee-dinosaurs, Pangaloons are, well, pangolin-dinosaurs and the Gestalt are mole rat-dinosaurs to name a few.
  • 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.
  • 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 appeareance.
  • 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.
  • More Teeth than the Osmond Family: The Cutlastooth is a saber-toothed maniraptoran which is basically a dinosaurian counterpart of Smilodon. The aquatic whulk also has thousands of tiny sharp teeth which allow it to filter the plankton it eats.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Ptero Soarer:
    • The book's pterosaurs are among the worst to ever appear anywhere (even for their time, they were bad), it seems that Dougal basically just said "screw it" and gave the pterosaurs any features he thought were cool, but couldn't be given to dinosaurs. American paleontologist Greg Paul even called him out on this. The Kloon, a small, wingless and flightless herbivore, is particularly infamous despite its arguably adorable design.
    • Although it should be noted, that at the time pterosaur science was in its infancy (little is still known about them).
    • Ironically, one of the more plausible pterosaur species in the book is the Lank, despite Paul considering the most absurd in the above essay.
  • Raptor Attack: As this was written before Jurassic Park, dromaeosaurs are given little coverage, with only two species shown, the Springe and the Jinx. On the bright side, it is probably the first piece of media to depict them with down.
  • 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.
  • Seldom-Seen Species:
    • The Paraso is a future pterosaur whose appeareance and hunting technique is based on the Black heron. The same applies to dromaeosaurs, aka raptors, as this was written before Jurassic Park and therefore they hadn't achieved the high levels of popularity they enjoy now. Only two future descendants of them, the Springe and the Jinx, are depicted. There are still plenty of future maniraptorans in the book.
    • The dubious genus Fulgurotherium, an Australian hypsilophodont with very scarce remains, is cited in the book as being the precursor to three of its creatures, the arboreal Crackbeak, the panda-like Taddey and the koala-like Tubb.
    • The Early Cretaceous genus Kakuru is suggested to be the ancestor of the modern Cribrum, Dingum, and Pouch (at the time, Kakuru was considered a coelurosaur, but nowadays has no definitive identity beyond "theropod").
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.