When Dinosaurs Ruled The Mind #40: Trope-osaurus: Volcanoes and Asteroids

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So, what killed the dinosaurs?

Why, aliens obviously.

Well, for the most part, scientists agree that an asteroid was what killed off the dinosaurs.

Wow, that’s actually kind of sad.

However, there are many people out there that insist that volcanoes actually did the dinosaurs in, not a meteorite.

 This was a pretty common theory back in the day, before the idea that a meteor killed the dinosaurs was mainstream. However, the idea has recently gained some new supporters as a culprit for the death of the dinosaurs. What is the biggest piece of evidence? The Deccan Traps.

The Deccan Traps are  an area in Western India that was once a gigantic lava flow, covering hundreds of miles. It is thought that a massive volcanic eruption occurred around 66 million years ago, around the same time dinosaurs disappeared from the fossil record. Such a massive eruption would have certainly caused great havoc on the earth’s wildlife of the time, and there are many people who think that this is a more plausible theory than the meteor impact.

However, evidence seems to point that both massive volcanic eruptions and a asteroid impact happened at the end of the Cretaceous. Many people believe that it was a combination of these two events that destroyed the dinosaurs, with the volcanoes making life hard for the existing animals with the asteroid merely being the straw that broke the camel’s back.

So, this brings up an interesting question. If the asteroid never hit, would the volcanoes be sufficient enough to completely wipe out the dinosaurs, and vise verca? Personally, I think an asteroid the size of Mount Everest would have killed the dinosaurs on it’s own even if the dinosaurs were going through really good times, but I’m not sure about the volcanoes. Now, I’m not expert, I’m just an enthusiast with a search engine, but I believe the volcanoes may have greatly reduced the dinosaur numbers, but not completely end the dinosaur’s reign. Even if giant sauropods, tyrannosaurs, ceratopsians, ankylosaurs, and hadrosaurs went extinct, smaller dinosaurs like raptors and ornithopods may have survived, and eventually replace those larger dinosaur types. Sure, the dinosaurs may have taken a massive, but they’ve survived something similar in the late Triassic, so I’m sure it would just mean the end of an era for the larger dinosaurs, with the smaller dinosaurs eventually taking their niche.

I’ve even heard on scientist (I can’t remember whom) have an even more interesting theory. He thought that if the asteroid never hit but dinosaur numbers still fell, mammals would take up larger niches along with the dinosaurs, leading to a world that was equal parts mammalian, equal parts dinosaur, and equal parts bird. Just imagine that!

Now, we know that in the end of the late Cretaceous, there was a bit of a volcano problem. So, does this mean that every dinosaur backdrop needs a smoking lava flowing eruption in the background?

I’m not even joking. I typed in ‘dinosaur mural’ in Google Images, and half of the images that came up had volcanoes in the background!

Wait, is that an Arsinoitherium? What the frick?

That’s not even to mention all the dinosaur themed volcano kids cakes out there.

I think I had a cake like this as a kid, once.

So, why does this image persist? Well, like I said before, volcanism was a popular theory for the death of the dinosaurs before the asteroid theory started to hold ground, but I don’t know if that alone holds it. I personall think, however, that the first one to popularize this trope was Rudolf Zallinger’s incredibly influential ‘Age Of Reptiles’ mural.

This image has been duplicated and reproduced for decades, and seems to be ‘the’ dinosaur mural. Of course, it has volcano’s in the background, indicating that this part of the mural takes place in the Cretaceous (with the whole ‘volcano extinction’ theory being played out). However, with as influential this image has become in dinosaur pop culture, the basic look has been copied to death, and in doing so, the volcano in the background trope has lived on.

However, this look can be deceiving. It may imply that the dinosaur world was constantly volcano stricken, with every dinosaur living in the shadow of a lava flowing eruption. In reality, even though volcanoes were present and may have had something to do with the extinction of the dinosaurs, it doesn’t mean they were constantly in danger from them in the entire Mesozoic.

I also hate it when works of fiction regarding dinosaurs treat asteroids as a common occurrence. For example, in The Land Before Time film series, one comment in movie number seven really get’s me angry. Littlefoot says that he saw a flying rock (what the dinosaurs call meteors) and Mr. Threehorn states there is nothing unusual about a flying rock, and that they’ve all seen them.


So, this has happened so many times that it is no longer unusual.

But, such is the image of dinosaur habitats. So many people think that all dinosaurs lived in steamy jungle swamps surrounded by volcanoes on all sides while asteroids rain down on a daily basis, when really the world of the dinosaurs was so much more interesting than that. I don’t see this image going away any time soon, though. It really is an example of how pervasive these tropes can be.

Join me next time as I review an episode of a childhood favorite series, The Magic School Bus: The Busasaurus.

Beep beep, beep beep.


4 thoughts on “When Dinosaurs Ruled The Mind #40: Trope-osaurus: Volcanoes and Asteroids

  1. also here is a bird wyvern i think took inspiration from gryposaurus ( if i’m spelling that right)

    gypceros it just died
    i’m giving you this as a sign that you did extremely well and i think it may make you laugh.


  2. Volcanoes IMO could likely kill them off. Most of that hemisphere at least. Sheer luck an asteroid hit the other hemisphere. I’m thinking it was a one two punch. Neither could have done it alone.

    The Toba eruption nearly wiped out humanity, but not quite.


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