The Top Six Dinosaur Myths And How We Busted Them

Simo Q/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Myth 2: Dinosaurs Were All Scaly

When dinosaurs were first discovered, it seemed obvious that because they were related to crocodiles and lizards, they must have been scaly. And many dinosaurs – including duckbills, horned dinosaurs, sauropods, and armoured dinosaurs – do preserve scale impressions. But in the 1970s, palaeontologists began wondering if some dinosaurs might have been feathered, like their bird relatives.

This was considered wild speculation at the time, but in 1997 a small carnivorous dinosaur named Sinosauropteryx was found to be covered not with scales, but a soft, fuzzy down. Since then, feathers have been discovered on the plant-eating ornithopods, fanged heterodontosaurs, and many families of carnivorous dinosaurs including Tyrannosauridae- meaning that T. rex was probably covered in feathers, not scales.

Soft and fuzzy A Gude/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Myth 3: Dinosaurs Were All Green And Brown

Early paintings of dinosaurs favoured a drab palette, with monotone animals dressed in depressing shades of grey, green, and brown. If the Mesozoic era really was that dreary, no wonder they went extinct. But in reality the colours would have been much more vibrant, even garish. Studies of dinosaur scales and feathers have revealed traces of melanin, the same pigment that lends colour to lizard scales, bird feathers and our hair. Analyses show that dinosaurs came in a wide variety of colours including black, white, and ginger. A few show-offs even had an iridescent sheen to their feathers.

Not only that, but many dinosaurs were boldly patterned with spots and stripes, white bellies and dark backs. Some of these patterns probably evolved as camouflage, to help dinosaurs hide from predators and prey. But bright colours and conspicuous patterns would have served to draw the eye of potential mates, much like the tail of a peacock.

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