The Book of What If . . . ?
What if Dinosaurs Hadn’t Gone Extinct?
If you’ve done any digging around on dinosaurs, you’ve probably discovered that the word dinosaur means “terrible lizard.”?1
But this isn’t entirely true. The actual translation for the Greek prefix deinos is “fearfully great.” The inventor of the word dinosaur, Richard Owen, intended the word to inspire awe, not terror.2
Over time, people have turned “fearfully great” into simply “terrible.”
“I would have a pet velociraptor. And we could buy dinosaurs at dino dealerships because there would be no need for cars because you just ride your T. Rex where you need to go.”
—Charlie, Battle High School, age 15
The second half of the word dinosaur comes from the Greek word sauros, which means “lizard.”?3
Even though many originally thought dinosaurs were lizards, scientists have now determined that they weren’t. Interestingly enough, birds and lizards both seem to be descendants of dinosaurs (though different ones).4
The more we learn about dinosaurs, the more ways we find how they differed from the reptiles we have today, including lizards.
But what if we had more than just a bunch of bones to go by to understand dinosaurs? What if dinosaurs were alive today?
“I would train a dinosaur to let me ride it to school.”
—Andrew, Battle High School, age 15
There are several questions to consider here. Perhaps the most urgent one is: who would “rule” the earth—dinosaurs or humans?
Looking around today, humans have been able to create an existence at the top of the food chain, and we’ve been able to develop
technologies that move us further from the natural world. Do you think humans could have evolved in this manner if we had to compete against (or run away from!) dinosaurs all day long?
“The bigger dinosaurs would be hunted and the smaller ones domesticated as animals of labor.”
—Jonathan, Battle High School, age 17
What if, instead of finding a neighbor’s dog digging a hole in your yard, you saw a triceratops digging a hole? What if, instead of being afraid of bee stings when playing outside, you had to look out for pterodactyls swooping down from the sky to scoop you up for dinner? What if every day on your way to school, you were chased by a Tyrannosaurus rex? Could you tell your teacher a T. rex ate your homework?
Where would we be today? What would be better? What would be worse?
ACTIVITY Dino-Proof Your House
Imagine you live in a neighborhood struggling with an overpopulation of dinosaurs. They’re everywhere! Many people have come home to find dinosaurs in their yards eating their plants and leaves off their trees. Some homes have even been stepped on by dinosaurs—and crushed to smithereens, of course. What do you do? How can you save your home?
Draw a picture of what your home would look like once it’s been “dino-proofed.”
MARY ANNING, DINO-DISCOVERER
If you look around, you’ll notice that there are not many creatures that look like the ones that were alive in the time of dinosaurs. The
dinosaurs went extinct and some of them were fossilized. Many, many years later, a set of apes evolved into humans, and many years after that, we started fossil hunting. Mary Anning was an expert fossil hunter.
“If dinosaurs never went extinct, humans would have very slim chances of survival with how dangerous the world around us would be. Perhaps this would create a different society that focuses more on survival and protection rather than the society we have developed in which survival isn’t always immediately on our minds.”
—Dillon, Battle High School, age 16
Sometime between 1809 and 1811, when she was only 10 to 12 years old, Anning and her brother found one of the first ichthyosaur fossils (an ichthyosaur looks kind of like a dolphin). Her whole family hunted fossils, but Anning was the most dedicated. She went on to find many other ichthyosaur fossils, but her greatest find was of the first plesiosaur (a swimming dinosaur with a long neck like a giraffe). Anning was a well versed paleontologist (person who studies fossils), an expert at finding, drawing, and analyzing skeletal remains of dinosaurs.5