Did you know that dinosaurs aren’t really extinct and birds should be reptiles?
Steven Earle explains
Once upon a time, an enterprising fish ventured out of the ocean. From fish evolved amphibians, and from amphibians reptiles, and for millions of years the land was dominated by Apatosaurs, Ankylosaurs, Allosaurs and their kin. Today, some 65 million years after the giant dinosaurs disappeared from the geological record, their feathered descendants rustle through the foliage outside of Steven Earle’s window.
Earle, who is both a long-time Open Learning Faculty Member and Geology professor at Vancouver Island University, is teaching Open Learning’s first course about dinosaurs. GEOL 1031: Dinosaur Earth looks at the factors in the Mesozoic era that allowed dinosaurs to flourish, evolve, and die out. Here, Earle discusses the course – as well as where you can find modern-day dinos.
Q. So are you a dinosaur expert?
A. I don’t have a background in dinosaurs. I’ve been teaching geology courses for 20 years now, and various courses I’ve taught have included some aspects of palaeontology, plate tectonics, and also climate change and how it has impacted life in the past. This course is about a lot more than dinosaurs. They form the core of it, but it goes back to evolution of dinosaurs’ ancestors, right back to fish and how they came onto land. It covers a lot of time before the dinosaurs were here.
Q. So this course won’t cover the age-old question of whether the T-Rex or a Stegosaurus would win in a battle to the death? *
A. People are excited by dinosaurs, and that’s great, but in studying them, you have an opportunity to learn about all sorts of related things, like climate change, evolution and plate tectonics.
Q. The course will examine how dinosaurs evolved and diversified. Do you look at any particular species?
A. Students will be asked to focus on a specific dinosaur for a particular project. There’s going to be a fair amount of discussion of the different lifestyles of dinosaurs; what they ate, what sort of locomotion: fast, slow, armoured; how they defended themselves from other dinosaurs; how they adapted to finding food, and whether or not they were warm-blooded.
Q. What do you think students will find most surprising about the subject matter?
A. Well, I live in the country, and right now I’m looking out my window here at a guinea fowl. When you look at the way they move, it reminds me of a dinosaur. There is no other way of looking at it; birds are dinosaurs, they should be in the class Reptilia (that is something that will change). The idea that dinosaurs are extinct is not really true; they are around us. For me, that is one of the most compelling parts of the story.
Q. At the end of the course are you going to reveal the final, definitive reason why we don’t have Triceratops’ among us today?
A. There is a part in the course that discusses why non-avian dinosaurs went extinct, and other extinctions as well, but right now we only have theories.
*Please note: the fabled matchup between the Stegosaurus and Tyrannosaurus is impossible,
as they did not live in the same period. It’s still fun to pretend.