Fans of Jurassic Park already know how smart Velociraptors were.  Trekkies may remember an episode of Star Trek: Voyager where Voyager encountered a reptilian species that evolved from dinosaurs and fled Earth before the mass extinction.  If science fiction is any judge, it seems clear that dinosaurs had a lot of potential before they all died out.  So what does science fact say?

Allow me to introduce the Troodon (pronounced TRUE-o-don).  Scientists say this is the most intelligent dinosaur ever discovered.  Most dinosaur brains were tiny, like walnuts; Troodon’s was much bigger, though not nearly as big as a human brain.  As a predator, it spent much of its time and energy learning how to hunt and kill prey, putting that relatively big brain to good use.  It also had a feature we humans depend on: opposable thumbs (or at least “partially opposable” thumbs).

In 1982, a man named Dale Russell proposed a thought experiment, asking what would have happened if dinosaurs had not gone extinct and Troodon had continued to evolve.  Its big brain and partially opposable thumbs gave it the same tools our ape ancestors had.  He and others concluded it would have become a “dinosauroid” like the one pictured below.

Of course there is one big difference between our ancestors and those of the hypothetical dinosauroids: ours weren’t predators (at least not exclusively).  It would be interesting to speculate how an intelligent, predatory species would differ from us.  How would their society view violence, war, and death?  What would they think of us, if we had to share this planet?

Here are some links with more information on Troodon and how it could have evolved.

13 responses »

  1. kagmi says:

    What a wonderful thought experiment. It is so fascinating to think what the result may have been if creatures so different from us followed the evolutionary path toward intelligence.

    A friend of mine recently pointed out that there are many gaps in the fossil record greater than the length of human history. Whole technological civilizations could have developed, fallen, and remain undiscovered! It’s perhaps unlikely that any lineage could have gone through the whole series of transitional fossils without being noticed…but we forget how little we know about early Earth.


    • James Pailly says:

      I didn’t realize there were gaps in the fossil record that long, but of course human history is a very short period of time compared to the age of the Earth. So much could have happened, and we’d never know.

      Thank you, and thank your friend for me too.


    • Bob Thorton says:

      Most fossils are completely unrecovered. Most species have gone through the whole series of transitional fossils without being discovered.


  2. kagmi says:

    It is a pleasure. 🙂

    In fairness I don’t know how MANY gaps that big there are in the fossil record, but considering how many new species we discover each year I’m thinking they must be fairly substantial.


  3. Anonymous says:

    the second picture above looks like an alien


  4. Anonymous says:

    Because obviously life can only express intelligence in humanoid form. I’d prefer to be an omnivorous raptor with thumbs.


  5. Anonymous says:

    Troodon isn’t the smartest, Velociraptor is! Those things can open doors, set traps, you name it!


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  7. curious! I studied anthropology, and have always had a weird fascination with hominid evolution. This fellow has my full attention!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Kate Rauner says:

    If they followed a human domestication path, they get lighter weight bones and teeth, a shorter snout, improved dexterity, and of course a bigger brain with the socialization that implies – yup, that’s the dinosauroid that almost was.

    Liked by 1 person

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