Biggest dinosaur myths and mysteries

Updated 5:36 AM ET, Tue September 21, 2021
Dr Xing Lida dinosaur amber FILE 2016Dr Xing Lida dinosaur amber FILE 2016
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Dinosaurs were all huge? Wrong. The first dinosaur discoveries, the earliest more than 150 years ago, focused on the sensational: The big bones and skulls we know from museum atriums. But dinosaurs came in all shapes and sizes. In fact, some of the most exciting finds in recent years have been tiny. In 2016, a tail, belonging to a sparrow-sized creature could have danced in the palm of your hand was found preserved in a chunk of amber. Barcroft Media/Getty Images
Dinosaurs were scaly and reptilian? Wrong. New evidence has dramatically shifted the way see and perceive dinosaurs. While some dinosaurs did have reptilian scaly skin, many did not and were a lot more bird-like. Fossils showing primitive feathers were first unearthed in China in the mid-1990s. Now, it's widely accepted that many dinosaurs had fur or feathers. Yutyrannus, pictured in this illustration, is the largest feathered dinosaur discovered to date. courtesy Brian Choo
Dinosaurs were all greyish green? Wrong. Fossilized dinosaur feathers can reveal intriguing details about dinosaur coloring -- something once thought impossible. In some fossils, tiny structures called melanosomes that once contained pigment are preserved. By comparing the melanosomes with those of living birds, scientists can tell the possible original colors of the feathers. In the case of Sinosauropteryx, pictured here dark areas of the fossil were a rusty brown or ginger color and the rest were thought to be white.
Jakob Vinther/University of Bristol
We've found all dinosaur species? Wrong. Scientists have definitively identified around 900 dinosaur species -- although there are plenty more where paleontologists don't quite have enough bones or the fossils aren't preserved enough to truly call them a unique species. Many, many more species existed - one estimate suggests that there were between 50,000 and 500,000, but we might never find their fossil remains. So many species could exist because they were highly specialized, meaning different types of dinosaurs had different sources of food and could live in the same habitats without competing. For example, with unusually large eyes and hair-trigger hearing, Shuuvia deserti, a tiny desert-dwelling dinosaur evolved to hunt at night.
Courtesy Viktor Radermacher
We can tell what sex a dinosaur is? Wrong. On display at the Field Museum in Chicago, SUE the Tyrannosaurus rex is the world's most complete T. rex fossil but we don't know if it's male or female. Despite many earlier claims, including that female T. rexes were bigger than males, such findings are now are thought inconclusive. SUE is named for Sue Hendrickson, who discovered the dinosaur in 1990 during a commercial excavation trip north of Faith, South Dakota. Martin Baumgaertner/Field Museum
Dinosaurs were very different than humans? Yes and no. Dinosaurs suffered from some of the same diseases that afflict humans and animals today including cancer, gout and infections. T. rex was the ultimate dinosaur predator, but it fell victim to the tiniest of foes: parasites. The lower jaw of SUE the T. rex was pitted with smooth-edged holes -- a result of a parasitic infection called trichomonosis. It can also effect the lower jaw of modern birds like pigeons, doves and chickens. Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images