Dinosaurs had a good run of more than 180 million years, until an asteroid came along and wiped out life on the planet… Or did it? (That’s another question for another day.)
While most life of earth met its demise during the Cretaceous-Tertiary mass extinction (also known as the K/T boundary), many marine families and land-based vertebrates survived. If you’ve ever wondered what life was like before or during dinosaurs’ reign on the earth, here are some of the animals whose ancestors walked (or swam) alongside the most fearsome predators that ever lived.
If any living life form resembles the dinosaur, it’s the crocodilian.
You may know that the world was full of dinosaurs 99 million years ago, but did you know that crocodilian creatures were also in abundance? That’s right, the species – including crocodiles themselves – have made a living on Earth for an estimated 240 million years. In fact, the Cretaceous period was full of giant crocs like Sarcosuchus, Dryosaurus, Deinosuchus, Shieldcroc, and others – must have been a terrifying time!
(Did you know that you could see relatives of these prehistoric species at our Mangrove Swamps?)
Crocs were not the only reptiles to survive what the dinos couldn’t – snakes did too. They slithered their way out of the dinosaur era alive and lived to tell the ‘tail’.
The earliest known snake fossils date the reptiles to between 140 to 167 million years ago, putting their arrival smack in the middle of the dinosaur era when the big beasts were dominant on land as some of the fiercest and more fearsome predators. But they didn’t just live amongst dinosaurs, they fed on their young too!
Buzzing bees were alive and stinging even when the dinos were roaming the Earth! They’re bee-lieved to have first appeared during the Cretaceous period around the same time that the first flowering plants started to bloom (give or take a few million years). Due to the poor fossil record of bees, we don’t know for sure how these honey-harvesting insects crossed the K/T boundary, but a 2013 study of carpenter bees suggests that bee populations suffered from a mass extinction too.
Surely you saw this one coming? Believe it or not, these oceanic predators that haunt your nightmares have been in the oceans for about 450 million years – well before dinosaurs even arrived on the scene, and they’ve survived four of the five big extinction events!
It’s hard to imagine now but during the Cretaceous period, they were likely prey to the immense Spinosaurus aegyptiacus, but they proliferated and thrived once the dinosaurs died out.
(Fancy swimming with some of these ferocious fish? Check out our PADI-recognised discovery scuba session for beginner shark-diver.)
People don’t call horseshoe crabs ‘living fossils’ for no reason; these arthropods evolve much more slowly than other animals, so their current form is pretty much the same as it would’ve been millions of years ago.
Horseshoe crabs have become some of the nature’s most-enduring organisms; much like sharks, they’ve survived at least four of the planet’s biggest extinction events, including the K-T event that extinguished most dinosaur life on Earth.
Back in the days, sea stars (along with urchins and sea cucumbers) were all kicking it with sea-dwelling dinosaurs.
An extinct genus of sea star Pentasteria swam alongside deep-sea dinos from the Early Jurassic to the Early Cretaceous. It was much like a modern starfish as we know it; with five arms and a mouth on the middle of its underside. Its fossils have been found in Europe so keep an eye out for them on your next beach day!
Ancestors of modern lobsters were armed with six long claws and four eyes, and they prowled the seas more than 500 million years ago – predating dinosaurs! As far as we know, they’re the oldest giant filter-feeders to have lived, belonging to the family anomalocaridids that modern crustaceans call their great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grannies and grandads.
The duck-billed platypus is one of the only two remaining species of monotreme (egg-laying mammals), a group that dates back 210 million years ago to the Triassic period.
In 2008, scientists discovered that the platypuses have actually lived during the Jurassic period. They existed around the same time as echidnas (which are still alive today), when mammals were becoming fairly common in existence.
The earliest marine turtles are believed to have appeared during the Jurassic period, but it wasn’t until the Cretaceous period 100 million years ago that sea turtles began to evolve.
Prehistoric turtles coexisted with dinosaurs until they went extinct 65 million years ago. These turtles belonged to a group of ancient reptiles called Archelon, which is closely called related to the leatherback sea turtle we can see these days.
Sphenodontia was an order of reptiles that spent time amidst dinosaurs. Not really a lizard, nor a dinosaur: the last surviving species of its kind, the tuatara still exists today and can be found only in New Zealand. Tuatara lived alongside some of the first dinosaurs and separated from other reptiles 200 million years ago in the Upper Triassic period.
Cockroaches made it through the Great Dying period between the Permian and Triassic periods – there’s just no getting rid of them! They were one of the most dominant species during the Carboniferous period about 360 million years (or 112 million years before the dinosaurs), when they used to be about twice as big as their current form.
Get up-close and personal with some of these prehistoric species here at Blue Planet Aquarium this August! Book your tickets now for our summer Jurassic Shark exhibit, or call us on 0151 357 8804.