Lovers of dinosaurs (and by that I mean everybody) should have August 15 marked on their calendars. That’s the day that the documentary Dinosaur 13 debuts. It’s the story of a bunch of scientists who discover the remains of something like the biggest Tyrannosaurus Rex ever, and the fight that ensues over said bones.
The story sounds interesting. But I can’t help but wonder if all the parties involved were wasting their time. Because, let’s be honest here: Compared with many other dinosaurs, T-Rexes are pretty overrated. And overexposed. And just generally given too much bandwidth in any conversation having to do with primordial lizards. Yes, they were the marquee dinosaurs in all the Jurassic Park flicks. They’re always the main draw in any dino-flavored museum exhibit.
And why? Those little tiny grabby front claws don’t do much for anybody.
Let’s change things up right now. Behold: A list of dinosaurs that are – were? – so much more worthy of our time.
I’ll be honest, here. As dinosaurs go, Vulcanodon doesn’t have a ton going for it. Compared with the average modern man, it really wasn’t all that much bigger than a horse. It didn’t swim much or anything cool like that. It looks like pretty much every dinosaur stereotype you’ve ever seen. It’s Dino from The Flintstones. It’s Fido from Daffy Duck and the Dinosaur.
But I like Vulcanodon because it’s one of the oldest of those stereotypes – the archetype, if I may. Plus! It used its knife-like teeth to eat plants, which is adorable. But perhaps most importantly, the name Vulcanodon means “volcano tooth.” And that makes it A-OK by me.
I love this dinosaur just because of its “killing claw.” That’s what the science people call Archaeopteryx’s hyper-extensible second toe, which many modern birds also happen to have. (Has your cockatoo thanked Archaeopteryx yet for pioneering the whole killing claw phenomenon? Best get on that.)
Many of the existing fossils of this small species make the birdlike Archaeopteryx look like it’s dancing. And you also have to give this dinosaur props for essentially looking like a really pissed off, deadly chicken, or maybe a magpie. Because – oh! Did I forget to mention that Archaeopteryx was a feathered dinosaur? Feathered. Dinosaur.
Whether bigger dinosaurs preferred frying Archaeopteryxes or roasting them whole with truffles under the skin, we’ll never know. What we do know is this: It could probably, maybe, fly.
How many diabolical references can you squish into the average dino-moniker? Two, apparently. And when scientists first came across this dome-headed fella, they made sure to make those two references count. Technically, “Stygimoloch” means “demon from the Styx.” (It stems from a general species class known as “thorny devil from the Styx.” Bonus points for its fossils frequenting what’s known today as the Hell River area of Montana.)
He had two rear-facing spikes emanating from the back of his head like something from the mind of H.R. Giger. I’m also rather fond of a good conical horn array, which Vulcanodon had in spades along the bridge of – what is that, a nose? Snout? Snipey critter, wasn’t he?
Let me correct that: Khaaaaaannnnn!
If the dinosaurs ever celebrated Thanksgiving (and how cute would that be?) I imagine that they would eat … this 30-pounder. Look at him. Looks like Barney Rubble’s idea of a turkey. The legs alone look delicious.
His name meant “lord” or “ruler,” but someone had to rule the main platter between the cranberry sauce and the stuffing, amirite? Like Archaeopteryx, Khaan probably had feathers. But my favorite thing about Khaan just may be his newness as an old animal: He may have lived 75 million years ago, but he was only unearthed for the first time 14 years ago. And that gives every dino-lover hope of still more discoveries in the future. Preferably, turkey-like discoveries. Now I am hungry.
There’s something vaguely Jar Jar-like about Parasaurolophus, between its small, round, perpetually bewildered-looking eyes and that crest on its head. (I know: Gungans have eye stalks and not crests, but we’re talking vibe here.)
But Parasaurolophus has several factors going for it. For one: Did you know that it would lollygag around on four legs until it needed to get somewhere quickly, and then it would get up and run on two legs? That’s cool. My cat’s never done that. Also, that Binks-seque head crest feature was hollow, people. It had breathing tubes in it. Tubes that went from the nose…like…thing, all the way to the end, and then turned around and went into the back of the head for reasons that only Parasaurolophus knew. (OK, some people know too: Some scientists suppose that the Parasaurolophuses used the tubes to amplify their cries so that they could holler at other dinos. You’re welcome.)
I sat here for a good three minutes deliberating on whether I should include this dino. After all, it appeared in every children’s book about dinosaurs, wedged between the webby-backed dimetrodon and the tiresomely overrated Velociraptor. But then I started meditating on those back spikes. Do you have back spikes? No. Do I have back spikes? No. But Ankylosaurus did. That has to count for something in this cruel world.
And yet I still waffled.
But then came the moment of enlightenment: This poor extinct child of the Cretaceous period was the hedgehog of his people. And hedgehogs are adorable. So Ankylosaurus gets a place on the list.
Here’s another dinosaur from central casting. Every kid has seen this dinosaur, because, holy moly! It’s a shark! It’s a dinosaur! It’s a swordfish! It’s Steve Buscemi! It’s ALL THE THINGS. But does its familiarity among 7-year-olds make this extinct aquatic lizard any less worthy of our list? Of course not.
Even more fun facts: The skin was likely sharky, not fishy. And no one is really sure what color the Ichthyosaurs were. So you can totally make them puce or magenta or whatever, next time you see them in a coloring book.
Also by Leslie Gornstein on Topless Robot:
9 New Clones that Orphan Black Needs Right Now