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50 Fun Facts About Prehistory & Paleontology

Article #50! For such an occasion, I wanted to do something fun. Inside are 50 of my favourite facts about prehistory, spanning everything from Dino-bats to devil frogs.

Article #50!

For such a milestone, I wanted to do something a little different. While I was encouraged to do an introspective piece on my website and its progress, I felt like doing something fun instead. There are so many weird facts about prehistory that are often difficult for me to include in my articles, making this the perfect opportunity to put them out there. Besides, attempting to do this at article #100 would be a nightmare. With that in mind, I hope you enjoy 50 of my favourite facts about prehistory and paleontology. If you have any others that I missed, feel free to comment!

  1. Woolly Mammoths went extinct 1000 years AFTER the great pyramids of Egypt were built.
  2. The largest pterosaurs – the azhdarchids – were as tall as giraffes when on the ground.
  1. Despite the size of giant sauropods like Argentinosaurus, the blue whale is the largest organism in earth’s history.
  2. While whales are the largest animals to have ever lived, they evolved from pig-like animals in Pakistan, some 50 MYA.
  3. There is a real paleontologist named David Schwimmer, who has absolutely no relation to the actor David Schwimmer, who plays a paleontologist on the TV show Friends.
  4. There is more time separating the evolution of Stegosaurus and Tyrannosaurus than there is between Tyrannosaurus and us.
  5. While the end-Cretaceous extinction is our planet’s most famous mass-extinction, it “only” killed 75% of all life on Earth. For comparison, the Permian extinction killed 95% of all life.
  6. During the Pleistocene of Sicily, 5-foot-tall swans towered over 1-meter dwarf elephants.

  1. The average T. rex tooth is larger than a banana.
  2. Camels, while only found in Asia and Africa today, evolved in North America.
  3. Advancements in technology have allowed paleontologists to discover the colouration of some feathered dinosaurs.
Yi Qi, the most well known of the dino-bats
  1. Some dinosaurs could fly, most notably a group of small, winged dinosaurs nick-named the “Dino-bats” from China.
  2. There is a dinosaur named “Thanos” from the cretaceous of Brazil.
  3. Nothing is scarier than a crocodile – except for extinct crocodiles that could run on land at blistering speeds.
  4. Since the heads of sauropod dinosaurs are rare, some headless fossils simply use the heads of other species for display purposes.
  5. Due to the exquisite preservation of the La Brea tar pits, paleontologists have discovered numerous dire wolf penises.
  6. Despite growing to over 100 feet long and weighing over 60 tonnes, sauropod eggs grew no larger than a soccer ball.
  7. Over 300 million years ago, increased oxygen led to the evolution of massive insects, including 2-meter millipedes, dragonflies the size of owls and spiders the size of cats.
  1. Many myths – including those of the cyclops, griffin and dragon – likely stemmed from our ancestors encountering dinosaur or, in the case of the cyclops, elephant fossils.
  2. While Saber-toothed cats are famous for their fangs, saber teeth have evolved numerous times in Earth’s history, including in marsupial lions, giant salmon and Permian carnivores known as Gorgonopsids.
  3. McDonalds and Disney, alongside other investors, once helped to purchase a Tyrannosaurus fossil named Sue now on display at the Field Museum in Chicago.
Ankylosaurus
  1. The armoured dinosaurs, the Ankylosaurids, were so well protected that some species had armoured eyelids.
  2. Dimetrodon – the four-legged sailed-back carnivore from the Permian period – is more closely related to humans than it is dinosaurs.
  3. While humans are now the most dominant species on the planet, our ancestors were preyed on by birds similar to eagles.
  4. The tallest mammal to ever live is not a giraffe, but rather a species of rhino named Paraceratherium that lived in Central Asia.
  5. While sloths are small, tree-dwellers in the present, their extinct relatives lived on the ground and could grow to be larger than elephants.
A giant ground sloth.
  1. The longest neck of any sauropod belonged to Xinjiangtitan, measuring in at a whopping 15 meters.
  2. Leonardo Di Caprio and Nicholas Cage once got into a bidding war over a fossil of Tarbosaurus. While Cage won, he had to forfeit the fossil to the US government after it was revealed that the fossil had been imported illegally.
  3. The jaws of Megalodon, the world’s largest extinction shark, are big enough to fit an adult human inside (2 meters across).
The jaws of Megalodon.
  1. Juvenile Tyrannosaurus look so different from their adult counterparts that paleontologists originally believed they were a new species.
  2. The freezing conditions of the Arctic tundra have led to the preservation of mummified ice age animals, including mammoths, woolly rhinos, lion cubs, cave bears and more.
  3. Despite popular teachings, grass did in fact evolve during the time of the dinosaurs. This was discovered after paleontologists dissected fossilized dinosaur poop.
  4. The first animals on land were millipedes.
  5. Continental drift – the idea that continents move over time – was confirmed in part by the abundance of Lystrosaurus fossils in Antarctica, Madagascar, India, and Africa, proving there must have been a connection at some point.
  6. In 1861, the first fossil of Archaeopteryx was discovered and described. It wouldn’t be for another 135 years that another feathered dinosaur would be discovered.
Archaeopteryx
  1. Horses went extinct in North America alongside other megafauna at the end of the Pleistocene, some 10,000 years ago, only to be reintroduced by the Spanish conquest.
  2. The largest frog in history, the “devil-frog” Beelzebufo, likely ate juvenile dinosaurs on a regular basis.
  3. Technically, the first scientific name attributed to a dinosaur is Scrotum.
Whale Fossils in the Sahara desert
  1. Fossils of marine life, most famously whale fossils, are often found in the Sahara Desert, as northern Africa used to be a shallow sea known as the Tethys.
  2. The shortest scientific name attributed to a dinosaur is just four letters: Yi Qi.
  3. For the last 15 million years, Antarctica has been a frozen desert. For most of its history, it was a temperate rainforest.
  4. While dinosaur fossils have only been identified in China for the last 25 years, it already has the second most dinosaur species for a country, trailing only the United States.  
  5. North America used to be home to many African animals, including cheetahs, lions, hyenas, camels, rhinos and more.
  6. Tyrannosaurus and its close relatives did not have the smallest arms for a dinosaur. Both the Abelisaurids and Alvarezsaurids had smaller arm sizes proportionate to their bodies than the Tyrannosaurids.
Carnotaurus, an Abelisaurid.
  1. Cave art made by ancient humans have allowed paleontologists to understand the colouration of Megaloceros, an extinct elk species with 4-meter-wide antlers.
  2. While it may seem impossible, dinosaur DNA has been discovered on at least one occasion. Though it is unclear if we can recreate Jurassic Park using this…
  3. Speaking of Jurassic Park, paleontologists have attempted to bring dinosaurs back from the dead. This is done through the manipulation of Chicken embryo DNA not through cloning.
  4. Despite being well-known as Antarctic animals, penguins likely evolved in Australia and New Zealand.
  5. In the 1870’s, British scientist Thomas Henry Huxley proposed the connection between dinosaurs and birds. It wouldn’t be for another 120 years that this view was widely accepted.
  6. Dinosaurs didn’t go extinct. In fact, I’d be willing to bet you’ve seen one in your lifetime: birds are indeed dinosaurs.

I hope you enjoyed this article! Feel free to comment below.

References:

I do not take credit for any images found in this article.

Pterosaurs courtesy of Mark Witton, found here

Giant swan and dwarf elephant courtesy of Julio Lacerda, found here

Yi Qi courtesy of John Conway, found here

Arthropleura and Meganeura found here

Ankylosaurus skull found here

Giant Ground Sloth illustrated by Brian Engh, who can be found at his twitter here

The jaws of Megalodon found here

Archaeopteryx fossil found here

Whale fossils in the Sahara found here

Carnotaurus courtesy of Keller Pyle, found here

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