Why your dinosaurs are about to be killed by Daleks

Illustration for article titled Why your dinosaurs are about to be killed by Daleks

When you see pictures of dinosaurs, there are a few awful tropes that come up again and again. Not only do they make dinosaurs vulnerable to Dalek attack, says paleobiologist Mark Witton, but they also prevent people from understanding what the big animals were really like.


Witton put the above illustration together out of sauropod artwork by Mark Hallett, borrowed from here, and Daleks borrowed from The Mind Robber

On his blog, Witton has a hilarious and fascinating essay about several tropes of dino drawings that drive him nuts — and make dinosaurs much less realistic for everybody. First, he mourns the lack of realistic landscapes around dinosaurs. All we ever see are giant, flat plains with very little vegetation. Great for Daleks with their wheeled trashcan bodies, but completely unlike the actual, varied terrain where these animals would have lived.

As a counter-example, check out these beautiful (and adorable) sauropod herds created by John Conway, who live in a world of hills, lakes, and weather. Putting dinos in realistic landscapes helps make them seem more natural, too.

And here's another annoying trope: the "slasher" dino pose, complete with claws out and yawning toothy chasm of a mouth. The problem with this is that it limits the way we see the dinosaurs, and emphasizes a pose that might actually have been pretty unnatural for them.

Illustration for article titled Why your dinosaurs are about to be killed by Daleks

Photograph from The Birds & The Peas

As a counter-example, Witton offers this amazing video of alligators growling with their mouths closed. Ancestors of alligators would have been all over the place during the periods when dinosaurs dominated the planet, and it's very likely that a dinosaur's menacing pose would have been more like these alligators': mouth firmly shut, with a resonant, scary growl coming from deep in their throats.

Witton writes about a lot more tropes and rates their realism in his essay, which you absolutely must go read right now. He's convinced that some of these recurring, artificial representations are what cause people to reject the idea of feathered dinosaurs. Feathers make dinos look too much like ordinary animals — but that is, in fact, what they were. Why not draw them as magnificent, believable creatures in a natural landscape, instead of posed weirdly in places that look like soundstages?


Read the full essay on Mark Witton's blog.



A few of those paintings from John Conway have an awful lot of grass in them. That's not a realistic landscape either and it always bothers the hell out of me. The rise of grasslands 10 million years ago is a central part of the supposed explanation for why our ancestors started walking upright. Putting dinosaurs in grasslands is not only inaccurate for the dinosaurs, it's inaccurate for hominid evolution as well.