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.