Archosaurs: Dinosaurs

Dinosaurs (“fearfully-great lizard”) include the Saurischia (“lizard-hipped”) with a simple, three-pronged pelvis, and Ornithischia (“bird-hipped”) dinosaurs with a more complex pelvis, superficially similar to that of birds. However, it is a fact that birds evolved from the saurischian “lizard hipped” lineage, not the ornithischian “bird hip” lineage. Dinosaurs and their theropod descendants, the birds, are remnants of what was formerly a hugely diverse group of reptiles, some of which like Argentinosaurus were nearly 40 meters (130 feet) in length and weighed at least 80,000 kg (88 tons). They were the largest land animals to have lived, challenging and perhaps exceeding the great blue whale in size, but probably not weight—which could be greater than 200 tons.

Herrerasaurus, a bipedal dinosaur from Argentina, was one of the earliest dinosaurs that walked upright with the legs positioned directly below the pelvis, rather than splayed outward to the sides as in the crocodilians. The Ornithischia were all herbivores, and sometimes evolved into crazy shapes, such as ankylosaur “armored tanks” and horned dinosaurs such as Triceratops. Some, such as Parasaurolophus, lived in great herds and may have amplified their species-specific calls through elaborate crests on their heads.

Both the ornithischian and saurischian dinosaurs provided parental care for their broods, just as crocodilians and birds do today. The end of the age of dinosaurs came about 65 million years ago, during the Mesozoic, coinciding with the impact of a large asteroid (that produced the Chicxulub crater) in what is now the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. Besides the immediate environmental disasters associated with this asteroid impacting the Earth at about 45,000 miles per hour, the impact may also have helped generate an enormous series of volcanic eruptions that changed the distribution and abundance of plant life worldwide, as well as its climate. At the end of the Triassic, massive volcanic activity across North America, South America, Africa, and southwest Europe ultimately would lead to the break-up of Pangea and the opening of the Atlantic Ocean. The formerly incredibly diverse dinosaurs (save for the evolving birds) met their extinction during this time period.