Gone but not forgotten
Dinos carved from stone
At Zoo Berlin, dinosaur fans don’t have to go far to discover some fine specimens: two stone-carved beasts grace the entrance to the Aquarium, just inside the Zoo grounds. The portal is decorated with a large triceratops head, while a gigantic iguanodon stands guard outside. The iguanodon was one of the very first dinosaur species to be discovered. It got its name from its teeth, which resembled those of an iguana. The statue – which, admittedly, looks very like a dragon – was created by artists Otto August Markert, Heinrich Harder and Gustav Tornier in 1912/13. Back then, knowledge about dinosaurs was still rather limited and they were automatically lumped together with animals like tortoises and lizards.
In the decades since then, a great many scientists have intensively studied the unearthed fossils and learned much more about the numerous dinosaur species and how they lived. When we compare dinosaurs to animals alive on Earth today, the first creatures that spring to mind are probably Komodo dragons, iguanas and other lizards, as they bear a striking resemblance to the prehistoric giants. All those reptiles can be found lurking behind the Aquarium’s impressive façade, where research continues to find out how closely related they are to the dinosaurs.
The short answer is: it’s complicated – as family relations so often are. Scientists have carefully studied the family trees of dinosaurs and the five classes of vertebrate, and they now know much more about them. It turns out that monitor lizards and geckos don’t actually have that much in common with dinosaurs. In fact, crocodiles seem to be the only reptiles with any real family ties to the extinct giants. For instance, experts have found that, like crocodiles, dinosaurs were polyphyodont, meaning they were able to continually replace their teeth throughout their life.
Talking of teeth: take a closer look at the tree monitors next time you’re at Tierpark Berlin. The way they eat is remarkably similar to how some of the stars of Jurassic Park gulp down their meals.
A vegan diet – trend or tradition?
The fearsome-looking iguanodon was actually a herbivore, just like the triceratops. Indeed, it seems that two thirds of dinosaurs were vegetarian and would have presented no danger to humans. But gentle giants grazing peacefully on grass wouldn’t provide as much action for Hollywood movies, so the focus tends to be on the carnivores. Today, around 90 percent of Earth’s total mammal population are herbivores; flesh-eaters have always been the minority.
Alongside their lizard-like appearance, the most striking characteristic of dinosaurs tends to be their vast size. To find anything comparable among the animals in Berlin we have to leave the Aquarium and head into the Zoo. Near the Löwentor entrance lives Asian elephant bull Victor: a five-tonne stunner with a body four to five metres in length and a shoulder height of 3.2 metres. Elephants are the biggest land animals alive today – but they would still be dwarfed by dinosaurs like the Argentinosaurus, which had an estimated length of 35 metres and probably weighed as much as 100 tonnes.
One last chance
The mass species extinction we are witnessing today is largely the result of human action. Poaching, habitat destruction and climate change are driving many animals to the brink. And yet biodiversity is crucial to our own survival in the future. Nature is one big complex web of interdependencies, with different species affecting one another in a variety of ways. If strands of this web are broken, certain natural processes cease to function properly. Every time a plant or animal species becomes extinct, it takes others with it. Human beings are part of that complex web, just like all animal and plant life. That is why Zoo, Tierpark and Aquarium Berlin are working hard to protect threatened species and prevent them from becoming creatures that only exist on the big screen, like the dinosaurs. Find out how YOU can help here