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Dinosaur Facts Part IV

The last of four articles answering questions about dinosaurs. This article covers the following issues: what colors dinosaurs were, were dinosaurs social animals, when dinosaurs became extinct, and why did dinosaurs died out.
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What colors were dinosaurs?

Direct fossil evidence for dinosaur skin color is unknown. Paleontologists think that some dinosaurs likely had protective coloration, such as pale undersides to reduce shadows, irregular color patterns ("camouflage") to make them less visible in vegetation, and so on. Those dinosaurs that had enough armor, such as the stegosaurs and ceratopsians, may not have needed protective coloration but may have been brightly colored as a warning to predators or as a display for finding a mate. Most dinosaurs probably were as brightly colored as modern lizards, snakes, or birds.

Were dinosaurs social animals?

Some dinosaurs were social creatures. Recently discovered evidence indicates that they travelled together and that some may even have migrated (because dinosaur fossils have been found above the Arctic Circle, where food supply would have been seasonal). Grouped hadrosaur nest sites have been found with badly crushed eggshells and skeletons of baby dinosaurs (with slightly worn teeth) still in the nests, suggesting that some babies stayed in their nests after hatching and probably were fed by parents.

When did dinosaurs become extinct?

Dinosaurs went extinct about 65 million years ago (at the end of the Cretaceous Period), after living on Earth for about 165 million years. If all of Earth time from the very beginning of the dinosaurs to today were compressed into 365 days (1 calendar year), the dinosaurs appeared January 1 and became extinct the third week of September. (Using this same time scale, the Earth would have formed approximately 18.5 years earlier.) By comparison, people (Homo sapiens) have been on earth only since December 31 (New Year's eve). The dinosaurs' long period of dominance certainly makes them unqualified successes in the history of life on Earth.

Why did the dinosaurs die out?

There are dozens of theories to explain a probable cause or causes. Throughout the Mesozoic Era, individual dinosaur species were evolving and becoming extinct for various reasons. The unusually massive extinction at the end of the Cretaceous exterminated the last of the dinosaurs, the flying reptiles, and the large swimming reptiles, as well as many other marine animals. There is now widespread evidence that a meteorite impact was at least the partial cause for this extinction. Impact craters are visible on most planets in our solar system. A spectacular example of this was witnessed in 1994, when Jupiter was struck by a series of cometary fragments. Some of these impact blasts were larger than the Earth's diameter. Other factors such as extensive release of volcanic gases, climatic cooling (with related changes in ocean currents and weather patterns), sea-level change, low reproduction rates, poison gases from a comet, or changes in the Earth's orbit or magnetic field may have contributed to this extinction event.


Return to Dinosaur Facts.

Source: United States Geological Survey

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