The Rise and Fall of the Age of Dinosaurs

Dinosaurs lived on Earth for a very long span of time, from the Late Triassic period to the end of the Cretaceous period. The exact duration of the "Age of Dinosaurs" can vary depending on the specific groups of dinosaurs being considered, but in general, they existed for around 165 million years.

Sep 11, 2023 - 01:00
The Rise and Fall of the Age of Dinosaurs
Image by Dariusz Sankowski / Pixabay

Dinosaurs first appeared during the Late Triassic period, which began around 230 million years ago. The earliest dinosaurs were relatively small and bipedal, and they coexisted with other reptile groups.

The Jurassic period started around 201 million years ago. During this time, dinosaurs diversified and evolved into various forms, including some of the most iconic species like the long-necked sauropods and the carnivorous theropods.

The Cretaceous period began around 145 million years ago and saw the further evolution and diversification of dinosaurs, including the rise of large, armored herbivores like ankylosaurs and horned dinosaurs (ceratopsians), as well as the continuation of various theropod lineages.

The "Age of Dinosaurs" came to an end at the close of the Cretaceous period, around 65 million years ago. This end is marked by a mass extinction event, most famously associated with the impact of a large asteroid or comet near what is now the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico. This event led to the extinction of the non-avian dinosaurs, along with many other species. However, some dinosaur descendants survived and evolved into modern birds, which are considered living dinosaurs.

Dinosaurs were a diverse group, ranging from small, feathered theropods to massive, long-necked sauropods and everything in between. They occupied a wide range of ecological niches and habitats, and their evolution was characterized by numerous adaptations and variations.

The abrupt extinction of the non-avian dinosaurs is one of the most well-known and studied events in Earth's history. This mass extinction event, known as the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) extinction event, occurred around 66 million years ago at the boundary between the Cretaceous and Paleogene periods. It led to the extinction of a significant portion of Earth's plant and animal species, including the non-avian dinosaurs.

The most widely accepted explanation for the K-Pg extinction event is the impact hypothesis. According to this hypothesis, a massive asteroid or comet impact occurred near what is now the Yucatán Peninsula, in actual Mexico. This impact would have released an enormous amount of energy, causing widespread fires, tsunamis, and a "nuclear winter" effect due to the injection of dust and debris into the atmosphere.

The immediate effects of the impact would have been catastrophic. Massive wildfires would have swept across the landscape, and tsunamis would have inundated coastal areas. The impact's energy would have vaporized rock, creating a plume of superheated material that would have ejected into the upper atmosphere, causing global darkness and a significant drop in temperatures.

The debris ejected into the atmosphere would have blocked sunlight, leading to a dramatic reduction in photosynthesis and disrupting the food chain. This "impact winter" effect would have caused a prolonged period of darkness and cold temperatures, making it difficult for plants and animals to survive. The lack of sunlight would have also impacted marine ecosystems, disrupting plankton populations at the base of the marine food web.

The K-Pg extinction event had a significant impact on various groups of organisms. While the non-avian dinosaurs are the most famous casualties, many other species of marine and terrestrial organisms also went extinct. For example, ammonites, marine reptiles, and some groups of mammals and birds were affected. The extinction of certain groups, such as the ammonites, was more severe in the marine realm.

Despite the widespread devastation, some organisms managed to survive and thrive in the post-extinction world. Mammals, including early ancestors of modern mammals, survived and eventually diversified to fill ecological niches left vacant by the extinct dinosaurs. Birds, crocodilians, turtles, and many other groups also survived the extinction event.

The K-Pg extinction event marks a pivotal moment in Earth's history, leading to the end of the Mesozoic Era and the beginning of the Cenozoic Era. It allowed for the eventual rise of mammals and the evolution of various new groups of animals that would come to dominate the planet in the subsequent geological periods.

Janet Bluesky Member of EA Coordination Team