It’s fairly common knowledge that the scary rulers of our prehistoric world died out when - around 66 million years ago - an asteroid the size of Manhattan collided with Earth. There’s even an 180 km wide crater beneath the Gulf of Mexico to prove it. But some kooky individuals will insist upon coming up with other reasons for the demise of the dinosaurs - and they’re all pretty hilarious.
The "extinction by asteroid" theory has been around for so long now that it’s hard to imagine any other explanation. But just for fun, let’s revisit some of the theories that didn’t quite work out. Before we arrived at our current theory, amateur paleontologists (and maybe some Jurassic Park mega fans who fancied themselves a paleontologist) put some very bizarre ideas on the table. These have included alien abduction, mass depression in dinosaurs, and even being wiped out by their own fart power!
Science is all about trial and error, of course, so it’s only natural that a few batsh*t crazy theories came to light before sense and logic prevailed. Who’s to say that the Chicxulub crater currently underneath Mexico isn’t actually proof of a UFO that crash-landed? Or that the humble butterfly is the real reason that the most terrifying creatures to ever exist were snuffed out? Forget what you ever knew about the extinction of the dinosaurs - these explanations are so much better! Here are 15 insane theories as to why the dinosaurs may have kicked the bucket.
15 They Were Poisoned
The dinosaurs didn’t have Columbo on their side back then, so finding the culprit was always gonna be pretty tough going. This supposed poison wasn’t the work of a villainous dinosaur out to rule the planet for himself though, it was a substance found in volcanic lava and gasses during the Mesozoic era. The substance called selenium - which has many health benefits today - can be toxic if consumed in large quantities and the theory is that dinosaurs were ingesting a heck of a lot through their vegetation.
Since the herbivorous dinosaurs ingested so much selenium, the theory is that meat-eaters were also at risk after eating the dinosaurs who had ingested the selenium. This all sounds perfectly plausible, but whether or not it was capable of causing their extinction seems a little far-fetched. Selenium did not affect every form of plant life and like most mammals alive today, some dinosaurs will have been intelligent enough to stay away from the more toxic stuff.
14 They Built Spaceships And Left Earth
This may be the best theory about anything ever. Some people have actually theorized that dinosaur brains developed enough to allow them to design and build their own spaceships. (We’ll just let that image sink in for a second.) We can just picture it now: A few dozen Brontosauruses wearing hard hats and a clipboard, a Velociraptor or two carrying pots of paint up a ladder, and a Pterodactyl flying overhead to make sure the rivets are in place.
Most dinosaurs have notoriously small brains and besides, the tiny arms of a T-Rex would never be able to pick up tools anyway. So how the hell did this theory come about? A recent discovery into the fossilized brain tissue of a large herbivore dino suggests they may have been more intelligent than previously thought. But some nutcases have made the leap that because of this, it’s possible that the dinosaurs survived the asteroid impact and - over millions of years - evolved human-like brains to escape their volatile planet in a spaceship. Cuckoo!
13 Unprotected Fun
Long before STDs, there was apparently a phenomenon known as STDD (a Sexually Transmitted Dinosaur Disease). Or so some scientists believe. One theory as to why the dinosaurs became extinct is that they mated their way to oblivion (sounds like a good way to go though, right?). In all seriousness, some theorists believe that the dinosaurs had a love of promiscuous sex with multiple partners and that this could have given rise to - that’s right - the dinosaur equivalent of AIDS.
As disturbing as it is to imagine a planet filled with horny, angry dinosaurs, it’s even more disturbing when you realize why some people think a form of prehistoric HIV existed in the first place. The thinking is that the dinosaur AIDS virus actually came from space. So before the huge asteroid arrived, a mini AIDS asteroid hit the Earth and infected every creature within a 5-mile radius? This demented theory is actually making Scientology sound sensible!
12 They Farted Themselves Into Extinction
Have you ever been in an elevator where you smelled the kind of fart that could kill an entire species? Some believe this could have actually been a possibility around 66 million years ago - a colossal fart attack that was responsible for the death of not just one species of dinosaur, but around 80 percent of all living things. Nasty. All dinos great and small contributed to the supposed fart apocalypse, but the heavy, 80-tonne sauropods are the biggest culprits.
Researchers believe that the plant-based diet of hefty dinos like the diplodocus and brontosaur would have resulted in methane gas that could have significantly impacted the global climate. There’s no disputing this fact. But from this, others have drawn the ridiculous conclusion that their trumps were powerful enough to cause mass extinction - ignoring the fact that sauropods managed to survive for millions of years...or perhaps they were being polite and holding it in all that time?
Before we get to the bottom of this insane theory, we can immediately understand why one dinosaur, in particular, might have suffered from depression. The Tyrannosaurus Rex. Wanting to carve out a reputation as the fiercest one of them all, yet possessing laughably tiny arms and hands? That’s got to be embarrassing. This could also explain why they were so pissed and aggressive about everything (hmm...this reminds us of someone in power right now).
Getting back to the theory of dino depression, the German word "Paleoweltschmerz" is the belief that the dinosaurs gradually became fed up with ruling the planet for millions of years and became so disillusioned with the whole thing that they simply died of boredom and depression. If only all scary dictators would fall victim to this way of thinking, but it’s not in their nature. And it sure wasn’t in the nature of the prehistoric predators, either. They ruled the planet and loved every minute of it!
10 They Never Existed In The First Place
The easiest cop out for the extinction of the dinosaurs (and something hardcore religious fundamentalists fall back on time and time again) is the notion that they were never here in the first place! Despite carbon dating and mountains of fossilized evidence to prove otherwise, some loonies will insist on believing that dinosaurs never roamed the planet at all. So how do these crackpots explain the existence of fossils?
According to some dinosaur deniers, dinosaur bones were put on the Earth as a prank by the devil or by aliens. Um, what? A slightly more mainstream view, according to Christianity, is that dinosaurs may have existed on Noah’s ark, but died soon afterward. For the most part, though, Christians believe that dinosaurs were merely made up by science to support the theory of evolution. So, scientists also bothered to bury an ancient species beneath layers of rock thousands of years ago too? Oh no wait, that was the devil...or aliens. Seems legit.
Whether you’ve seen the Ashton Kutcher film or not, you’ll have most likely heard about The Butterfly Effect - the notion that even a butterfly can affect the course of history. And apparently, this is one theory that people have hinged on to explain the death of the dinosaurs. Allegedly, 80 percent of the huge and powerful monsters that once roamed the Earth allowed themselves to be snuffed out by one thing and one thing alone - the humble butterfly.
Butterflies may look pretty and delicate but they are actually dino-killing machines (so why did Spielberg leave them out of Jurassic Park? That could have been a very different showdown at the end of the movie.) Getting back to the Butterfly extinction theory, some paleontologists believe that butterflies came on the scene and ate all the plant life (as caterpillars) and effectively destroyed the dinosaur food chain. No plants meant no herbivores, which meant no predators….and no logic.
It’s well established that dinosaur brains and limbs often let them down (poor T-rex), but a theory proposed by an ophthalmologist suggests that their eyesight might have made life difficult too and could even have led to their downfall. In 1982, eye doctor L. R. Croft theorized that the harsh sunlight may have caused dinosaurs to go blind before they reached sexual maturity, and could therefore no longer reproduce (that doesn’t stop humans with poor eyesight, but dinosaurs were stupid, remember?).
Because constant exposure to heat is known to increase the chances of cataracts, the ever-increasing global temperatures on Earth back then was apparently to blame for weaker eyesight in dinosaurs. Some species with large horns and crests on top of their head - like the Triceratops - had an in-built shield to help shade them from the sun’s piercing rays, but even these dinos could have succumbed to cataract blindness, according to Croft’s theory. On the bright side, at least they wouldn’t have seen the scary asteroid heading straight for them.
7 Attack Of The Fungi
According to research by a number of paleontologists in China, the asteroid impact kicked off a chain reaction of other deadly events - one of which involved a global fungi growth which may have wiped out the dino population. Not content with the idea that a city-sized comet was probably enough to do the job, a handful of researchers believe that the wildfires caused by the asteroid impact may have been a breeding ground for fatal fungus.
As fungi multiplied, fungal spores started taking over the planet until it started to corrupt the dinosaur's immune systems and cause horrible diseases. The spores also compromised dino eggs, further threatening the population. To be fair, with all the global tsunamis, forest fires and other scary side effects of a gigantic meteor striking your homeland, the takeover of fungal spores will have likely been the last thing on the minds of dinosaurs and is unlikely to be the sole reason for their death.
The dinosaurs were tough cookies. So tough in fact that they dominated the planet for close to 200 million years. So the last thing you’d expect to be their Achilles heel is a drop in temperature. Not according to paleontologist John Cys. In the late 1960s Cys published an article that suggested the dinosaurs disappeared because they were unable to adequately hibernate in time for winter. At this point, we’re not sure how cold a prehistoric winter may have been, but we’re pretty sure dinosaurs will have been able to handle it.
Cys commented that large dinosaurs, in particular, would have been the first to go because they were far too large to find a cosy, insulated place. It’s also not known how long the winters lasted during the dinosaurs reign, but if it’s anything like Game Of Thrones’ winters, then this theory might start to stack up. Even if dino winters were as rare as those in GOT though, they must have survived more than one over the course of 175 million years!
5 The Evolution Of Plants
They say a change is as good as a rest, but one theory suggests that a certain food change didn’t sit too well in the stomachs of dinosaurs - the non-stop evolution of plant life. Constantly evolving vegetation sounds like something of a utopia for the herbivores of the dinosaur kingdom, but not so much. Some dinosaurs were simply really fussy eaters and could not handle the change in diet brought about by all the new plant species that emerged in the Cretaceous period.
The boring old ferns and conifers of yesteryear turned into flowering plants and hardwood forests as far as the dino eye could see, and this supposedly left a bitter taste in the mouths of fussy herbivores. Another addition to this theory is that the new plant diet could have caused terminal constipation in some dinosaurs - in which case, mass extinction looks like a pretty attractive alternative.
4 Extremely Thin Eggshells
Dino eggs (and modern reptile eggs) are tough and strong. They need to be to survive the harsh elements and protect young against potential attacks from nosy predators. Unfortunately, even bad ass dinosaurs didn’t always have the strongest eggs. Some were incredibly flimsy to the point that they couldn't properly support the embryos at all. In the 1970s, French and German researchers theorized that thin eggshells alone were behind the mass extinction of the dinosaurs.
The weak eggs were said to have been down to hormonal changes in mothers and would cause the embryos to become severely dehydrated. Fragile eggs don't exactly spell successful species, but it doesn’t sound quite apocalyptic enough to have wiped out the dinosaur kingdom. Besides, this problem wouldn’t have applied to all dinosaur species around the globe, so while the researchers made a plausible observation, they were decidedly barking up the wrong egg nest with this one.
3 Eliminated By Aliens
Nearly as stupid as the theory that dinosaurs built their own spaceship is the hypothesis that they were abducted and destroyed by aliens. Some loony theorists have arrived at this idea based on what they’ve seen on shows like Ancient Aliens. This is a cable program on the History Channel (give me strength) which perpetuates the belief of some creationists that aliens destroyed the dinosaurs - wait for it - to make room for humanity.
Maybe this means the Chicxulub crater is actually the UFO landing spot and not evidence of an asteroid impact after all! It’s a sad state of affairs when the Prehistoric History Museum in Utah had to point out to visitors that there is “no evidence of aliens or their garbage in the fossil record.” Also, why couldn’t the aliens ever drop by Earth sometime and let us thank them in person? Maybe they regret their decision and just don’t wanna own up to it.
2 Over-Indulging On Eggs
A bit like you do over the Easter holidays, it’s believed by some that the dinosaur population dwindled over time because some mammals and reptiles went on a greedy egg hunt at a rate that destroyed the population. The 20th-century paleontologist George Weiland believed that a greed for dinosaur eggs led to their extinction and even argued that the reason the Tyrannosaurus Rex became so huge was due to a diet of sauropod eggs. Proof that no good ever came from the words “Eat these, they’ll make you big and strong!”
As well as being polished off by large and scary-ass carnivores like the T-Rex, Weiland believed that eggs were also being eaten left right and center by prehistoric lizards and snakes. Although fossilized evidence can prove that dino eggs were a popular meal for many mammals and reptiles throughout the dinosaur reign, they wouldn’t have been eating eggs at a rate that could wipe them out entirely.
1 A Supernova
For those who are perhaps too freaked out by the brutal and violent nature of a comet impact, there is always this theory - that the dinosaurs were gradually wiped out by a supernova, which at least gave them a pretty cosmological firework display. Before the current asteroid theory became more mainstream, a physicist and paleontologist worked together and came up with the idea that a neighbouring star decided to die a little too close to the Earth’s atmosphere.
In 1971, Wallace Tucker and Dave Russell suggested that the resulting supernova of a dying star so close to the planet would have had disastrous consequences. The explosion could theoretically cause a surge in global temperature and radiation levels unsurpassed by anything before. It’s a cool theory and would easily destroy the majority of living things on the planet 66 million years ago. Sadly, there’s no evidence that a supernova ever happened this close to us before. Might make a cool wallpaper though.
Sources: smithsonianmag.com, telegraph.co.uk, forbes.com, smosh.com
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