Dinos 101: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know

Greeter at Tyrrell Museum (photo - Miksha)

Greeter at Tyrrell Museum (photo – Miksha)

Want to know about dinosaurs? You’re in luck. The University of Alberta is offering a free 12-week course, a MOOC (Massive Online Open Course) starting January 3rd. I am thinking of signing up for it – the course is offered through Coursera, a giant MOOC-clearinghouse. I’ve taken advantage of Coursera before – I took their Philosophy of Science (University of Edinburgh),  A Brief History of Humankind (Hebrew University of Jerusalem), Origins – Formation of the Universe, Solar System, Life and Earth (University of Copenhagen). I haven’t studied any MOOCs that were taught via a Canadian school, so I am looking forward to Phil Currie’s lectures from the University of Alberta. Dr Currie ran the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology here in southern Alberta and he is a smart and capable presenter.

If you have never taken a MOOC, maybe this is the time to give it a try. The Coursera program is free (although you can purchase “Verified Certificates of Completion” if you want – I haven’t done this myself).  Give Coursera’s MOOC a try. You can always drop out if the material or time commitment (about 3 – 5 hours/week) doesn’t work for you. The January 3rd course is called Dino 101: Dinosaur Paleobiology and it will cover topics in dino biology, as well as evolution, plate tectonics, and extinction. Course material claims it will also help you understand how science works. Go to this site to learn more.

As part of their promotion, the University of Alberta put together this fun page: Dinosaur Videos: 12 dinosaur myths that will blow your mind. I don’t know how these myths will actually “blow your mind” or even if that is something you want done to your mind. (I know, that silly title is just tedious click-bait.) But the webpage itself is not bad. Each myth is accompanied by a short video. If you aren’t jumping over to their site, here are three of the best of the U of A  blow-your-mind myths:

  1. Dinosaurs walked the earth, then mammals came. That’s a myth. Mammals actually evolved before dinos, but stayed in a repressed rat-like stage until the dinosaurs cleared out. Synapsids, of which mammals are the major modern representatives, arose 324 million years ago. They became rather large and dominant creatures until the Permian extinction, after which most were wiped out – except for the mammal branch. Those animals kept our bloodline alive, but were forced into cowering submission by the rising influence of the dinosaurs. Then, of course, most dinosaurs went extinct while others became birds, clearing the way for the rise of synapsids (as mammals) once again. 

  2. Some dinosaurs lived in water. That’s a myth, too. Even the super-big 100,000-pound fellows like Brachiosaurus and Apatosaurus were landed gentry. Somehow they had enough muscle to hold their bodies upright. (There is a theory that the Earth was smaller and gravity was weaker and that’s how the dinosaurs got so big. The Earth might be expanding, but I don’t think it was that much smaller during dino days.)

  3. Dinosaurs were slimey, featherless creatures. Another myth. According to the University of Alberta dino myth page, “Since the 1990s, paleontologists have discovered species after species of extinct dinosaurs that were covered in feathers. These were flightless theropods that may have used their feathery body coverings for insulation, protection from the elements and as displays for potential mates.

If this sounds like fun stuff to know, you will probably like Dino 101: Dinosaur Paleobiology. I suspect the actual course work will be more rigorous and challenging than this fun little introduction (and it might not blow your mind), but chances are it will teach you everything you ever wanted to know about dinos.

About Ron Miksha

Ron Miksha is a bee ecologist working at the University of Calgary. He is also a geophysicist and does a bit of science writing and blogging. Ron has worked as a radio broadcaster, a beekeeper, and Earth scientist. (Ask him about seismic waves.) He's based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
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