Such is the popularity of dinosaurs that they have two International Dinosaur Days, June 1st and the 3rd Tuesday in May. A bit of internet sleuthing revealed Dinosaurs Day on August 2nd. Throw in Fossil Day on October 13th and dinosaurs begin to run up the national/international celebration score! Dinosaurs have more days devoted to them than dogs, cats, penguins, wildlife, and any other topic I searched. It is a testament to how globally beloved dinosaurs truly are. True confession: somehow I had never heard of an International Dinosaur Day (IDD) before May 30th, when I was asked what Fossil Crates would be doing to celebrate IDD. With less than 48 hours until the big Monday event, I pondered just that: what would we do?
Dinosaurs have been found in 45 countries across all 7 continents. The Fossil Crates team decided to name 1 carnivorous and 1 herbivorous dinosaur from each continent as International Dinosaur Day Ambassadors. Selecting the Ambassadors from approximately 1,200 named dinosaurs was challenging. Asia alone has 400 named dinosaurs to choose from, more than I care to admit I wasn't familiar with, but I didn't want to exclude them simply because I wasn't aware of their existence! My Saturday, and deep into Sunday morning, truth be told, became a festival of reveling in dinosaurs. I was reminded of just how awesome dinosaurs are. And why they are universally beloved by children (and the in-the-know adults :-)).
Dinosaurs possess all manner of extreme adaptations. Teeth the size of bananas, 4' long claws, skulls 9' long, spikes the size of baseball bats, huge plates, armor thick as a brick, the skeletal features alone are astounding. And everyone can participate in pondering the why of dinosaur features, this isn't a realm where only professionals get to have an opinion. Why did Spinosaurus have a 6' tall sail on its back? Pachycephalosaurus' skull's thickness meant it had to be used for something, but for what? Tyrannosaurus' arms are so small because? What did the plates on Stegosaurus do? Did Albertonykus eat termites?
Bones alone are not all paleontologists find. We know some dinosaurs had feathers but didn't fly, so what did they do? Egg nests and hatchlings suggest some level of parental care, and considering birds are dinosaurs, and we know how hard most birds work to raise their young, why couldn't dinosaurs have done the same? However, crocodiles also lay eggs and guard nests but provide limited parenting shortly after birth. What did dinosaur parents do?
Advances in science allow us to know the color of some dinosaur eggs and feathers. Fossilized internal organs and amazing skin preservation have allowed much to be learned about their insides and outsides. Healed injuries allow guesses as to what diseases they may have suffered from and what kinds of fights they survived (one hadrosaur has a healed bone with a broken-off T. rex tooth inside it!). As 3D technology evolves, dinosaurs are being digitally excavated and 3D printed. Dinosaurs are coming to life in ways never before possible.
Dinosaurs wouldn't be popular without art. Many young artists start off doodling dinosaurs. Dinosaurs afford a leeway that most subjects do not because they are extinct with no record of what they looked like. The bones provide parameters, and in some cases, we have scales or feathers to guide the artist, but beyond that, dinosaurs are open for interpretation. Today's dinosaur art is astounding, I often feel I am looking at a photograph! Aside from art, the computerization of dinosaurs in video games and on the big screen has made a giant impact. Jurassic Park didn't make dinosaurs big, it supersized them, for the first time leveraging modern digital capabilities to a beloved group of animals. Without dinosaur artists, dinosaurs wouldn't be the worldwide phenomenon they are, as the imagination fuel they provide simply would be in existence!
Children love dinosaurs because they can PLAY with them. Not just with the toys but with their minds. They can envision the biggest, meanest, scariest predator, all with the safety of knowing they are extinct, yet the wonder of knowing they existed at one time. I'd wager dinosaurs have led to more individuals taking up a science career than any other creatures. Dinosaurs are fantastic educational vessels. Studying dinosaurs means being exposed to evolution, ecology, comparative anatomy, geology, geography, and Greek and Latin (after all, who doesn't want to know what the dinosaur name "means"?). Dinosaurs allow children to envision seeking, finding, excavating, preparing, describing, and unveiling to the world a new creature. One simply needs to walk up that next hill or uncover the next shovelful of dirt to make the next amazing discovery.