New Song, Same Mistakes

When I first saw the video for “The Dinosaur Song” created for the PBS kids' show Big Green Rabbit, I really liked it. It was a catchy tune and the animation was good... but then little things started to bother me.

In fact, you don’t get more than 15 seconds into the song before seeing a pliosaur (like Kronosaurus) and a pterosaur as “dinosaurs” that used to swim and fly “with a toothy grin.” Neither were dinosaurs. They shared a much older common ancestor with dinosaurs and evolved in different ways.

The chorus also contains a classic mistake. We’re told that dinosaurs had “brains like peas,” reinforcing the idea that they were big, dumb reptiles. It is true that dinosaur brain size was often relatively small when compared to body size, but this varied from one type of dinosaur to another. The idea that they were dim-witted, though, has often been tied to the mystery of their extinction; they perished because they were pea-brained. This is not true, and it is sad to see it keep coming up.

A few other errors pop up here and there, too. Dimetrodon, a sail-backed animal more closely related to mammals than to dinosaurs, makes an appearance, as does “Trachodon,” the old name for Edmontosaurus (which did not have a crest like the animal in the video). Neither did dead dinosaurs turn into “gas and oil” as the Sinclair Oil Company used to tell its customers. Natural gas and oil are “fossil fuels,” but the main energy source formed from once-living creatures is coal. A lot of ancient plants that existed during a time before the dinosaurs, called the Carboniferous, were buried and later turned into coal.

All of this is nit-picking, of course, but these were the kind of mistakes I heard two decades ago when I was first learning about dinosaurs. Dinosaurs are amazing and exciting enough without having to fudge details, even if it does make it harder to find rhymes for songs.

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