This page is an introduction about dinosaurs. Dinosaurs were a varied group of archosaurian reptiles, including bipedal, quadrupedal, carnivorous, herbivorous and omnivorous species, ranging from the size of small birds to large whales.
All non-bird dinosaurs so far known, as well as the first birds, lived in the Mesozoic Era, nicknamed "The Age of Dinosaurs", 252-66 million years ago (mya). The era is divided by geologists and paleontologists into three periods; from the most ancient to the most recent, they are the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous. You'll notice that the most well-known stock dinosaurs come from North America during either the Late Jurassic or the Late Cretaceous.
- No one dinosaur species lived through the entire era, nor were they evenly distributed over the world.
- Hence, the dinosaurs didn't all live together in the same time and place.
- No humans lived contemporaneously with Mesozoic dinosaurs.
Many depictions of dinosaurs break one or more of these rules (and other, more specific rules as well). When this happens, we get Anachronism Stew and Misplaced Wildlife, and it's easy to say that Artistic License Paleontology is in play. It is possible for works to follow the rules and still misrepresent dinosaurs, because Science Marches On and "hard fact" is nowhere near the same today as it was a century ago (or in some cases a decade ago).
Dinosaurs are divided here into four categories:
- Great Stock: *** What you think of when you think "Dinosaur"; have appeared everywhere in the media.
- Middle Stock: ** Have frequently appeared in media but are usually less-familiar to casual people than the latter. Some are closely-related to them and may be used as their substitutes in fictional works.
- Little Stock: * Tend to appear in documentary media, but are quite rare in the more popular ones. Their presence in fiction might actually be seen as an aversion of the trope.
- Non-Stock: Have appeared even more seldom in media (if at all). note See Useful Notes Prehistoric Life for these.
Stock dinosaurs are usually among the biggest/most impressive members of each dinosaur subgroup, but not necessarily the most common in the fossil record. Just as an example, Tyrannosaurus rex is known only from a dozen specimens, while other less popular dinosaurs have left hundreds of skeletons or even more. At the other extreme, several dinosaurs have left to us one single bone or tooth.
A brief history of popular depictions of dinosaurs
See here for a more detailed article.
1850s: The Crystal Palace dinosaur sculptures in London introduced dinosaurs to the public. The image they provided was of scaly, bulky, four-legged dragons (quite un-dinosaurian critters to our modern view). Introducing: Iguanodon, Megalosaurus, and Hylaeosaurus. The park also introduced some non-dinosaur reptiles: the flying Pterodactylus and the swimming Mosasaurus, Ichthyosaurus, and Plesiosaurus. The 1864 novel Journey to the Center of the Earth portrayed the latter two as the first "antediluvian reptiles" ever in literature. The first mention of a proper dinosaur in fiction, believe it or not, was by Charles Dickens, who in the opening paragraph of Bleak House (1853) described the streets of London as being so muddy he could imagine a Megalosaurus lumbering up them!
Late 1800s: The excitement of the U.S. Bone Wars made dinosaurs interesting to the readership of newspapers and magazines that recounted the exploits and discoveries of Marsh and Cope. Stock dinosaurs found: Brontosaurus (Apatosaurus, though at the moment said synonymy is kind of rocky), Diplodocus, Allosaurus, Ceratosaurus, Stegosaurus, Triceratops, Trachodon (Edmontosaurus). Non-dinosaurs found: Pteranodon, Elasmosaurus, Tylosaurus, and Dimetrodon.
Early 1900s: Updated depictions of dinosaurs were brought to the general public by early paleoartists (beginning with Charles R. Knight), by distribution of skeleton casts which made life-sized and fairly life-like museum exhibits possible, and by dinosaurs being introduced to films. From this time on, dinosaurs and movie special effects were tightly coupled. Based on the finds during and since the Bone Wars, dinosaurs were now seen as a more varied bunch, with larger and... less large forms, bipedal or quadrupedal. They were still sluggish brutes destined for complete extinction, though. In 1940 Disney's Fantasia reached a large audience, but didn't change the media image much. Introducing: The aforementioned dinosaurs and non-dinosaurs from the Bone Wars plus Tyrannosaurus rex, Brachiosaurus (now split into Brachiosaurus altithorax and Giraffatitan brancai; the latter of which is infinitely more represented under the B. moniker), ceratopsians Styracosaurus, Protoceratops & Chasmosaurus, Ankylosaurus, Ornithomimus/Struthiomimus, hadrosaurs Parasaurolophus, Corythosaurus & Kritosaurus, Plateosaurus, Pachycephalosaurus/Stegoceras, Coelophysis, and the non-dinosaurs Rhamphorhynchus, Dimorphodon, and Archelon.
1970s: The Dinosaur Renaissance changed the image of dinosaurs to more active, more intelligent, more caring to their offspring, and well-adapted to their environment (and surviving extinction through bird descendants). Introducing: Deinonychus (the animal who started the scientific view-change), Archaeopteryx (as a proper dinosaur; it's been well-known since the 19th century, but was considered a non-dinosaur before the Renaissance), and Compsognathus (also well-known since the 19th century but constantly confronted with Archaeopteryx since the seventies because it used to be believed its closest relative, and the proof of the relationship between dinosaurs and birds).
1980s/1990s/2000s: The original movie The Land Before Time and other works made in the second half of the 1980s started popularizing the image of dinosaurs as set up by the Dinosaur Renaissance. Since the 1990s, scientifically up-to-date books and computer animation in films/shows (especially in the Jurassic Park and Walking with Dinosaurs franchises) have completed the job. Introducing:
- By the Jurassic Park franchise: Velociraptor, Spinosaurus, Dilophosaurus, Gallimimus, Mamenchisaurus, Euoplocephalus/Scolosaurus, Carnotaurus, Maiasaura, Camptosaurus, and Albertosaurus.
- By the Walking With docu series and its spinoffs: Giganotosaurus, Argentinosaurus, Utahraptor, Gorgosaurus, Ornitholestes/Coelurus, Torosaurus, Dromaeosaurus, Dryosaurus, Therizinosaurus, Microraptor, Dracorex, Hesperornis, and the non-dinosaurs Didelphodon, Liopleurodon and Deinosuchus.
- By the The Land Before Time films: Saurolophus and Hypsilophodon.
- By the Disney's Dinosaur film: Oviraptor/Citipati , Stygimoloch, Pachyrhinosaurus, and Ichthyornis.
- By the Ice Ages film series: Baryonyx.
- By others: Troodon/Stenonychosaurus (included the "dinosauroid"), some alleged "biggest sauropods" ("Ultrasaurus" etc.), Camarasaurus, Saltasaurus, Shunosaurus, Amargasaurus, Tenontosaurus, Ouranosaurus, Lambeosaurus, Tuojiangosaurus, Pinacosaurus, Polacanthus, Tarbosaurus, Saurornithoides, Eoraptor, Acrocanthosaurus, Majungasaurus, Deinocheirus, "Monoclonius", Pentaceratops, Psittacosaurus, Kentrosaurus, Centrosaurus (two totally distinct dinosaurs), Gigantoraptor (not a gigantic "raptor" at all), and the non-dinosaurs Quetzalcoatlus, Kronosaurus, Shonisaurus/Shastasaurus, Megalania, and Titanoboa.
The number of stars for each animal and the Entry Time & Trope Maker-s are (or can be) kinda subjective, and the latest two do not refer to the scientifical discovery of the animals but to one of the first noticeable works in which they have been portrayed (or alternatively an iconic museum-skeleton, life-size model, paleo-artistic painting, distinctive anatomical trait etc.). For example, both Velociraptor & Spinosaurus were first discovered and described in the early XX century, but they have ascended to true Stock only in the last few decades thanks to one single series. For a description of all these animals, see these three subpages:
- Stock Dinosaurs Saurischian Dinosaurs
- Stock Dinosaurs Ornithischian Dinosaurs
- Stock Dinosaurs (Non-Dinosaurs)