Written By: JoCee Holladay
I recently watched the new Jurassic Park movie. Like many other viewers, I was impressed with just how realistic (and terrifying) the dinosaurs were in that film. They looked so natural, with sharp, gnawing teeth; curling toes; and scales that appeared rock solid. These dinosaurs were walking, running, eating, and playing games. They seemed to look exactly how a dinosaur might look, except for one major giveaway—they were missing feathers.
How dinosaurs looked remains largely a mystery. Still, one thing is becoming apparent: dinosaurs had feathers. Dinosaur comes from the term “large lizard,” which is unfortunate because dinosaurs are most closely related to birds.
You might not think about the ferocious tyrannosaurus rex when you see a chicken running around. Still, a warm-blooded chicken is much closer in relation to the king of the dinosaurs than an alligator is. The fact that dinosaurs were warm-blooded was baked into their downfall (pun intended).
Many people know that a meteorite caused the dinosaurs to go extinct. Still, fewer know how exactly that meteorite accomplished this. The extinction-causing meteorite was 6 to 9 miles across and collided with Earth at 45,000 miles per hour. This massive impact instantly shot over 12,000 cubic miles of molten rock, 350 billion tons of sulfur, and 460 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. As these dust and gas particles began falling back to Earth, they rubbed against air molecules and each other, causing friction.
Now, a tiny piece of dust rubbing against an air particle alone isn’t enough for anyone to notice the heat from this friction. But when billions of dust particles are falling, things start to get hot and heavy. The re-entry of this debris caused an infrared heat pulse that increased the atmospheric temperature by 500 degrees Fahrenheit for over 5 hours. The air was literally burning.
Most animals can’t survive this temperature shift, especially not large, warm-blooded animals with difficulty dispersing heat. The only dinosaurs that survived were those that could escape the heat by staying deep underwater, burrowing underground, or hiding in a cave.
This mass extinction event killed 75% of animals and plants on Earth. All animals weighing over 50 lbs, including all massive dinosaurs (commonly known as non-avian), went extinct. The only dinosaur survivors were the avian ones—the ones that would evolve to become modern-day birds.
Next time you are out birdwatching, see if you can find a resemblance to the dinosaur ancestors and appreciate the earth-altering experience they went through to be here.