When a meteorite plunged into the planet about 65 million years ago, the mega-asteroid struck the surface with force equivalent to ten atomic bombs. It was a big catastrophe: one that sent almost all large land organisms into extinction. It’s exciting and thought-provoking to contemplate what would happen if dinosaurs survived the ordeal. Would they co-exist with us on this planet and if so, could dinosaurs be tamed? It stirs the imagination.
Could Dinosaurs Be Tamed?
So, could dinosaurs be tamed if they co-existed with us today? The short answer is yes. Man has successfully domesticated and tamed particular species of present-day birds and reptiles, such as parrots, falcons, and lizards, all of which link their ancestry to dinosaurs.
There is, however, a caveat to this general answer: it only refers to dinosaurs as a group and not in the sense of having a particular species in mind. For example, consider that humans have been able to tame mammals, like cows and sheep, but that does not mean that we have similarly domesticated lions or the duck-billed platypus. With this in mind, it is quite hard to be fully confident about the assumed domestication of a particular species. It is because the theoretical domestication would be dependent on the behavior, biology, physiology, ecology, and geographical range of that species.
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The Tyrannosaurus Rex, for instance, could have been prone to a specific disease that would render it impossible to co-exist alongside humans. The disease, in this case, could prove impossible and intractable to maintain or tame the animal in an environment controlled by man. Other factors, such as the animal’s reaction to captivity, its habitat, or nestling, might also render domestication impossible.
Why Training a Dinosaur Would Be Difficult
The first group of reptilian animals emerged from the sea over three hundred million years ago. Therapsids, which later evolved into mammals, branched off from this group about forty million years later. Over the following, one hundred million years, another branched known as archosaurs branched off. The archosaurs became very successful. Archosaurs were the earliest ancestors of crocodiles and dinosaurs. About 65 million years ago, all dinosaurs went into extinction, except for one group of feathered dinosaurs. Over time, this group evolved into modern birds. Dinosaurs, therefore, share a phylogenetic history with birds and reptiles. Consequently, it is accurate to state that training dinosaurs would have been similar to training birds or reptiles.
Read on to find out why it would generally be challenging to train reptiles or birds and, by extension, dinosaurs. Also, discover what science has done in terms of animal behavior and training of reptiles and birds.
Why it Would be Difficult to Train Reptiles or Birds
Birds, which are also known as avian dinosaurs or Aves, are a cluster of endothermic vertebrates. The group’s members are characterized by toothless beaks, feathers, laying eggs, four-chambered hearts, high metabolism rates, and light skeletons. They are the most numerically expansive class of tetrapods.
Reptiles are considered to be one of the most diverse classes of the phylum Vertebrata. The class is divided into four different groups: turtles, squamates, crocodilians, and tuataras. The actual number of reptilian species on earth cannot be determined with certainty. However, total approximations of known reptilian species range between 7500 and 8000. This group of organisms is spread across the whole world, especially on major landmasses situated in temperate and tropical zones.
Why Training Reptiles Would be Difficult
All reptiles are cold-blooded. It means that their body temperature is dependent on the prevailing environment. While in the wild, reptiles will migrate to areas that have the optimal temperature for their survival. It is, therefore, essential to find out the preferred optimal temperature range for the tamed reptile.
Secondly, a reptile’s environmental condition may determine its immunity to viral infections. Some of these infections can be passed over to humans.
Most reptiles carry dangerous pathogens that can cause infections in man. Human beings, particularly infants and the elderly, bear the most significant risk of suffering from diseases caused by pathogens on reptiles. For this reason, reptiles must not be domesticated close to human settlement.
Behavioral Characteristics and Training of Reptiles
Reptiles are, typically, considered to be uncharismatic and unintelligent. The broad range of reptile habitats, ecosystems, and microhabitats, makes it very hard to enrich and train reptilian animals.
There are two main goals behind training an animal:
• To encourage species-appropriate behavior, and
• To provide the animal with control or choices over its environment.
These goals require the trainer to have a clear understanding of the reptile’s natural history. Natural information details include how the animal thermo-regulates, its optimum body temperature, natural diet, and so many more. Reptiles are, however, very diverse and broad in terms of their natural histories. Each of the 7500 – 8000 species has its own evolutionary story. It is, therefore, impossible to collect enough natural information regarding a particular reptilian species before training it.
Reptiles, mostly, demonstrate two primary emotions: fear and aggression. Snakes, for example, coil and hiss when feeling aggressive. They might even strike if they feel threatened enough. It is an innate survival instinct since most reptiles are wild and carnivorous animals.
Why Training Birds Would be Difficult
Birds can harbor and transmit diseases to human beings. Most of these infections are transmitted through the ingestion of food that is contaminated or inhaling contaminated air.
Since birds can fly, the trainer will inevitably put them in cages over the training period. However, this presents health concerns to both the bird and the animal, since it is likely that bacteria will grow and either of two might become sick.
What Science Says
Just imagine for a moment that scientists found a way to bring back dinosaurs. All of a sudden, we would have to share a planet with a velociraptor, T.rex, and other dinosaur species that have been extinct for so long. What would happen?
At first, the dinosaur clones would find themselves in a different world. It’s because the dinosaur’s relatives lived more than 65 million years ago. The earth was a different planet at this time. At that time, the planet was hot, there was a lot of carbon gases in the air, there were no grasslands, and mammals were only rat-sized. Before any other thing, the clones would have to adapt to their new environment.
According to paleontological findings, the reptiles would quickly adapt. Dinosaurs endured considerable temperature variations, rising and falling sea levels, and volcano eruptions. Dinosaurs were the ultimate survivors, and the modern change in climatic conditions is something they can handle easily.
Paleontologists have suggested that some dinosaur species would flourish and became like an invasive species while others would move back into extinction. It would all be dependent on mammals. Have in mind that during the Mesozoic Age, mammals were vermin moving in the shadows. Immediately the asteroid extinguished the dinosaurs; the surviving mammals grew larger and quickly spread all over the world. In other words, mammals and dinosaurs may not easily co-exist as dominant species. The fierce and big dinosaurs, like T-Rex, would out-muscle most modern mammals, but the smaller dinosaur species might not.
Over time, however, we would learn how to tame the gigantic and ferocious dinosaurs. It means that humans would do to dinosaurs what we have done to other animals: drive them into extinction and use the survivors to our advantage.
Feathered dinosaurs evolved into birds, which makes all birds related to dinosaurs. They are the only dinosaur species that survived the asteroid catastrophe, and today they have multiplied to form the most numerically-expansive class of tetrapods. Some of them are pests like gulls, while others are soarers like eagles. We have domesticated others like ducks and chickens, which we use for food and pets. Some of us even enjoy falconry or bird watching as hobbies.
Even though dreaming of having velociraptors and T. rexes on our planet seems to be both fun and terrifying, we should appreciate all dinosaur descendants around us. They carry on the genetics and legacy of their long-extinct ancestors.
What Science Has Done in Terms of Animal Behavior and Training of Reptiles and Birds
The word animal training conjures up images of animal acts in a circus or a parrot show. The term paints a picture in which animals have undergone training to complete acts for entertainment reasons. Training, however, has a different context. Animal training involves teaching animals to complete unnatural behaviors for educations, entertainment, and husbandry purposes.
Learning is the ability to gather information and subsequently respond accordingly to stimuli. Zoologists have managed to influence and change the behavior of animals. Over time, scientists have trained reptiles and birds to voluntarily and calmly enter a crate instead of being restrained physically for crafting. Moreover, the animals have been trained to accept veterinary procedures such as nail clipping, ultrasounds, and blood draws.
Birds and reptiles that suffer from chronic conditions can also be trained to cooperate and accept many different medical procedures. The training enables stress-free treatment, the facilitation of day-to-day care, and animal management. Training is often enriching to both the caretaker and the animal.
There has been a significant increase in the application of operant conditioning practices to train birds and reptiles for medical and husbandry purposes. Most zoologists use SPIDER framework to come up with well-thought-out behavioral plans for animals. The SPIDER framework involves setting goals, planning, implementing, documenting, evaluating, and readjusting.
- Setting goals: It is important to kick off a training program by determining overall behavioral goals. During this process, include all concerned shareholders.
- Planning: This process aims to bring all involved parties onto the same page. It has laid out assignments, plans, and timeliness assists in facilitating a smooth process. Coming up with clear communication channels and defining roles is equally important. To come up with the most appropriate technique for the animal’s training, it is mandatory to consider the animal’s natural history and its individual history.
- Implementing: Numerous sessions will be needed for sufficient training. Only advance if the animal is ready. If there is more than one trainer involved, then you must ensure sufficient communication between the two.
- Documenting: The trainers should keep a document to show trends and behavior. Trainers need to have records of all sessions. The trainers may choose to go back and look for any possible patterns in the information. It helps in keeping consistency and leaves a well-detailed record for others.
- Evaluating: Review the training plan based on previous documentation regarding trends and behavior.
- Readjusting: Make all changes necessary to achieve pre-determined behavioral goals.
Animal Behavior of Reptiles
Reptiles do not have typical character traits like in other animals such as birds, dogs, and cats. They, however, do have their unique assortment of behaviors and habits.
Reptiles have a smaller brain compared with mammals. Consider, for example, that a cat’s brain weighs about one percent of its body weight. A crocodile’s brain, on the other hand, weighs about 0.1 percent of its total body weight.
For this reason, most reptiles avoid enemies as a defense mechanism. Once threatened, lizards and snakes move away. Turtles and snakes sink in water if threatened. If cornered, snakes, lizards, turtles and crocodiles tend to hiss or vibrate their tails.
Some reptiles use body posturing if they feel threatened. For example, a snake will enlarge its neck to make its posture appear bigger.
Other defense behaviors include:
- Spitting venom
- Coiling and hiding the head beneath the body
- Secreting foul odors
- Flicking the tail: some lizards have horny tails that can be used as a weapon
- Some reptiles climb onto objects to get a feeling of security. Most reptiles require an enclosed and dark place to hide.
Heat Seeking: After a meal, reptiles need belly heat. Usually, you might notice them finding a warm spot and laying on it. During this time, the animal remains still while it generates internal energy to digest the food.
Semi-aquatic reptiles, like the crocodilians, exhibit a wide array of behaviors. The young ones prey on frogs and arthropods. However, as they grow, large vertebrate animals form a large part of their diet. Most crocodilians will take hold of prey by using rapid sideways head movement or by forward lunges. At times, the reptiles thrust themselves out of the water to catch the prey. Most crocodilian species can lunge forward the length of their bodies, and some species can even lunge vertically.
Socially, crocodilians use complex visual cues and vocalizations. These cues might include bellowing, gaping, tail wagging, nasal blowing, snout lifting, head-slapping, and body inflation. Such signals are used to show different dispositions, such as submissive behavior, conciliation, and asserting dominance. Most of the cues are, moreover, given in the water where the reptiles enjoy a bit of visual and acoustic advantage.
Female crocodilians, additionally, invest a lot of time and energy in parental care. They build nests from vegetation and soil and guard them during the incubation period. The female crocodilians will then move the babies to the water once they hatch. While inside the water, the reptiles will guard their young ones for weeks.
Some crocodilians, such as the Nile crocodiles, are social: they hunt and feed as a group. Others, such as Saltwater Crocodiles, are combative: they regularly fight among themselves.
Would Bird-Like Dinosaurs Be Easier to Train?
Take falconry into consideration: Man has trained and domesticated bird-like dinosaurs, like falcons, to be efficient hunting companions. The falcons are trained to pursue winged prey like waterfowl, grouse, and pheasants. In some cases, falconers who use hawks can also hunt ground-dwelling prey like squirrels and rabbits. Therefore, bird-like dinosaurs would be easier to train than other dinosaur species.
However, to sufficiently answer this question, we must consider the perennial concern of dinosaur biology: intelligence. Intelligence is a red herring when discussing domestication in general. However, the issue becomes weighty once we start talking about using dinosaurs in activities that require human co-operation, such as hunting.
Notably, some bird-like dinosaur species had plausibly similar intelligence levels to modern birds. It means that we could train particular dinosaur species to perform specific actions. However, there would have to be cut-offs as to which species would be considered manageable enough to work or walk with. Below a certain intelligence level, a bird-like dinosaur could be too risky to work with.
Even with intelligence favoring dinosaurs as potential hunting companions, you might also have to consider the animal’s size. Do you wonder how an angry or disobedient sauropod could be stopped or controlled if all hell broke loose? The sauropods could be used for meat production, but what would it mean for the handling and controlling of such a fattened, masculine, and powerful animal?
There are several solutions to these problems, but they all seem to advocate for one thing: driving the big and unintelligent species into extinction and using the smaller intelligent survivors to our advantage.
It’s interesting to ponder what it would be like with a pet dinosaur that you could give commands to and watch it follow them. In reality, there are great difficulties in being able to train modern-day reptiles and birds. However, from their example, we can catch a glimpse of what might have been.