by Riley Black/Smithsonianmag.com
Dinosaurs are adored for their size, their ferocity and their strangeness; nothing sparks the imagination more than daydreaming of strange, ancient creatures traversing lush ancient landscapes millions of years ago. Some of the largest—such as Patagotitan—stretched more than 100 feet in length and weighed over 70 tons. The jaws of the fearsome Tyrannosaurus could crush bone. The armored Stegosaurus sported a flashy array of plates and three-foot-long spikes at the end of its tail. But, despite the striking appearance of our favorites, not all dinosaurs were fierce, giant, highly decorated, or even all that strange.
What made the Mesozoic world go ’round weren’t the flashiest dinosaurs, necessarily. Credit goes to the average dinosaurs, the seemingly humdrum herbivores that were critical to ancient ecosystems who lived from 66 to 251 million years ago. These sorts of dinosaurs often get nicknames like “the cows of the Cretaceous,” but that moniker belies their story. Average dinosaurs—both in terms of size and appearance—were core parts of ancient dinosaur communities. Carnivores have to eat, after all. By getting a clearer picture of what the average dinosaur was like, the better paleontologists can understand the nature of the ancient ecosystems where these dinosaurs roamed.