Gazing through the mists of time, we see our favorite dinosaurs roaming the Earth. Brachiosaurus raises its head. Velociraptor hunts its prey. And in a jungle clearing, armored Stegosaurus battles vicious Tyrannosaurus rex.
That’s the Hollywood version. Popular films such as Jurassic Park or The Land Before Time feature all types of dinosaurs coexisting. But a menagerie of megafauna belongs in the annals of science fiction, not history.
Take our ferocious combatants. Stegosaurus, a bulky herbivore, had a dangerously spiked tail it used for defense. Down its back ran a line of vertical plates. It lived during the Late Jurassic period, roughly 155 to 145 million years ago. Meanwhile, T. rex stood tall on two legs, a terrifying carnivore with a nasty and powerful bite. This king of dinosaurs lived in the Late Cretaceous period, around 68 to 66 million years ago.
The fight between them would have been epic. Would Stegosaurus lash T. rex with its spiky tail? Would T. rex sink its teeth into its opponent’s flank? Sadly, we’ll never know. A bit of subtraction shows us that these two dinosaurs lived nearly 80 million years apart! Stegosaurus would have been a fossil by the time T. rex evolved. And since Tyrannosaurus lived 66 million years ago, that means Stegosaurus and Tyrannosaurus lived further apart from each other in time than Tyrannosaurus lived from us.It’s hard for us to wrap our heads around so many years. Paleontology, however, reveals the secrets of the ancient past. Through it, we learn the true stories of mighty creatures that came long before us.