10 things the Jurassic Park series won't tell you about dinosaurs

SINGAPORE - In another reboot of a blockbuster franchise, Universal Studios has released the trailer for Jurassic World this week.

The fourth instalment in Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park movies is expected to open worldwide next June.

Coming 22 years after 1993's original Jurassic Park, which grossed about US$1 billion worldwide then, much has changed in the reel world in which dinosaurs were brought back to life.

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The Park is open for business, and packed with visitors, jeeps have been replaced by futuristic "gyrospheres", and leading man of the moment Chris Pratt (Guardians of the Galaxy, 2014) is the resident dinosaur expert, possibly even trainer. To up the ante, a "genetically modified hybrid" mystery dinosaur has been introduced.

In the real world, two decades of research has changed our view of what dinosaurs were, and how they might have looked.

"Palaeontologists have a few fossil bones to pick with Jurassic World", said National Geographic in an article on Wednesday.

While the special effects and leads have been updated, the science is still stuck in the 1980s, say palaeontologists.

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The dinosaurs are depicted in the same way as they were shown in the original film, but scientists have dug up quite a lot more about the extinct giants since then, they say.

Here's what you won't learn about dinosaurs and fossils just by watching the movies:

1. Most dinosaurs had feathers, and did not look like smooth-skinned reptiles, as depicted in the movies. They did evolve into birds, a theory that was talked about in the 1993 movie, and has now been confirmed.

2. Some new dinosaurs have been discovered in recent years, and they look nothing like the old classics we know and love in the movies. The Deinocheirus mirificus, unveiled in journal Nature this year, had the bill of a duck, the hump of a camel and the neck of an ostrich.

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There's also this Chicken from Hell.

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3. Dinosaurs are not reptiles. But neither are they mammals. In a study published in Science in June, evolutionary biologists said that they had growth rates and metabolisms intermediate to warm-blooded and cold-blooded organisms of today. The idea that they are cold-blooded reptiles date all the way back to the 19th century.

4. Remember that scene where palaeontologist Dr Alan Grant intimidates and corrects a young boy who compares velociraptors to turkeys?

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It turns out the boy may be right, as the dinosaurs were smaller than they were depicted, and most likely feathered.

5. Many of the dinosaurs in the show, including the tyrannosaurus-rex and velopcirator, walked the Earth during the late cretaceous period, which came tens of millons of years after the Jurassic. The large herbivorous brachiasaurus is from the Jurassic.

6. Fossilised bones of what is believed to be the largest dinosaur ever to be found were unearthed in Argentina this year. The 90-million-year-old fossil weighs about 77,000kg - making it about as heavy as 14 African elephants. It was 40m long and 20m tall, researchers said. The brachiosaurus, at about 26m in length, has nothing on it.

7. A tiny version of the Tyrannosaurus rex roamed China some 125 million years ago. The Raptorex, discovered in 2009, gave scientists some important clues about the evolution of the "King of dinosaurs". The fossil, which was was nearly 100 times smaller than the T-rex we know, suggests that for most of their evolutionary history, Tyrannosauruses were small animals that lived in the shadow of other very large dinosaur predators.

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8. The Tyrannosaurus was also not as fast as the show made it out to be. The T-rex in Jurassic Park almost caught up with a speeding car, but new research indicates the dinosaur moved only about 16-24km per hour.

9. How did Jurassic Park manage to clone the long-dead dinosaurs? Park creator John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) explained that they extracted blood from fossilised mosquitoes, which fed on the dinosaurs, and were then preserved in amber.

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This is definitely impossible, and so is the idea of filling in the degraded DNA with frog genes. The 'scientific' process is described in the website www.masraniglobal.com for the film, which is disguised as a corporate website for the company that hatches the dinosaurs.

10. A fossil of a female mosquito that still had blood in it was found last year, the only one ever to be found. However, this mosquito died 19 million years after the dinosaurs are believed to have become extinct, and DNA does not have survived long enough for anyone to be able to clone dinosaurs. DNA in fossils is unusable if it is more than 10,000 years. Scientists are trying to clone 10,000-year-old frozen mammoths, but even that is a long shot.

Sources: National Geographic, Agence France-Presse, Los Angeles Times, New Statesman, The Guardian

chuimin@sph.com.sg