Science & Technology

We Discover a New Dinosaur Species Every Week

Dinosaurs are mind-bogglingly cool. That's just a scientific fact. It's too bad that they're no longer with us. Ten years from now, dog breeders will come up with a new kind of puppy, but there'll never be a new breed of dino. Well, don't worry — all of the dinosaurs that ever were may have kicked the bucket, but there's no shortage of new-to-us varieties. At today's rate, paleontologists are discovering a new species of dinosaur every single week.

A Golden Age for Dinosaur Hunters

Everybody knows about T. rex, or Triceratops, or Stegosaurus, and maybe even a thing or two about Brachiosaurus. But the number of dinosaurs that have permeated the popular consciousness is basically nothing compared to the number of dinosaurs that paleontologists have discovered. Recent years have seen the rate of discovery cranked all the way up to one per week, many of them looking quite strange if all you know are the old standbys.

Take Jianianhualong tengi, for example, which solved some mysteries when paleontologists described it in 2017. At three feet long, this little guy was pretty tiny compared to the dinosaurs you'd usually imagine, but pretty big for the chicken that it closely resembled. What really sets Jianianhualong apart are its feathers, which were asymmetrical — and that's a requirement if you want to fly. These critters may or may not have been capable of flight, but they proved that feathers of various lengths were widespread in the early days of bird evolution.

And a few years ago, the first complete body of Deinocheirus mirificus proved that amazing discoveries can also be a little goofy. Dino-lovers couldn't help but compare it to a certain Jar-Jar Binks.

Mansourasaurus shahinae, which some paleontologists called the "Holy Grail" of dinosaur fossils in 2018, was proof of migration between the land masses of what is now Europe, Africa, and South America. Plus, need we mention Borealpelta markmitchelli, the nodosaur preserved in mummified perfection?

These are just a few of the big finds that are helping shape a modern understanding of dinosaur ecosystems. The truth is that the picture becomes clearer every week.

Can You Dig It?

Historically speaking, a discovery per week is blazingly fast. From 1984 to 1994, scientists were able to name about 15 new dinosaurs a year, and there weren't any major innovations in dinosaur digging in the meantime (although digital analysis tools have certainly improved). We'll probably never discover them all, but some people chalk up this new dinosaur golden age to two factors.

Breaking new ground: According to "The Rise and Fall of Dinosaurs" author Stephen Brusatte, new national policies have allowed paleontologists to explore nations never before combed for dinos. China, Mongolia, and Argentina have all proven to be full of never-before-seen dinosaurs, and researchers are just getting started.

Jurassic spark: It might sound like a joke, but in a real way, the movie "Jurassic Park" set off a new renaissance of dinosaur discovery. Notice how that slow 15-a-year pace ends in 1994? That's not a coincidence. Because Steven Spielberg made such an incredible flick, a whole new generation of kids grew up with a love of prehistoric reptiles. It just goes to show how important it is to keep good(ish) science in the movies.

If you haven't read "The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs," you can give it a listen and hear the story of the dinosaurs like you've never heard it before (it's free with your trial membership to Audible). We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

What Color Were Dinosaurs?

Written by Reuben Westmaas June 22, 2018

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