Earth & Conservation

These Modern Animals Trace Back to Dinosaur Era: Photos

The creatures, some little changed, have lineages dating to the days monsters roamed the Earth.


Dinosaurs had a good run during the Mesozoic Era, from roughly 248 million to 65 million years ago, until an asteroid changed all that and ushered in the so-called Cretaceous-Tertiary Mass Extinction event, a slow, painful demise that wiped out most life on the planet, including all non-avian dinosaurs.

Most, but not all, life. Many marine families and land-based vertebrates survived. Here's a selection of modern animals whose ancestors walked or swam in the dinosaur era.

Photo Credit: Thinkstock

While lots of reptile species didn't make it past the great extinction, others found a way. If you wanted to a find living, breathing, modern dinosaur, you could do worse than to look up (from a distance) a crocodile. Today they're smaller than their Mesozoic ancestors, but crocs in general have made a living on Earth for some 240 million years.

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Photo Credit: Thinkstock

Lizards made it out of the dinosaur era alive and flourish today.

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Photo Credit: Thinkstock/Ingam Publishing

So did snakes, which slithered among the dinos and lived to tell about it.

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Photo Credit: Thinkstock

Salamanders are among the amphibians alive today that date to the dinosaur era. They hail from about 160 million years ago, during the Late Jurassic Period.

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Photo Credit: Thinkstock/Bondariev

Sphenodontians were an order of reptiles that spent time amid dinosaurs. Its last living species exists today, the tuatara, found only in New Zealand. The reptiles from this order date to some 200 million years ago.

Grandfather Turtle Had No Shell, But Link to Snakes

Photo Credit: WikiMedia Commons

You knew this was coming, didn't you? Sharks, among our top fish for sheer fascination and enduring popularity, date back more than 400 million years, well before dinosaurs even arrived on the scene.

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Photo Credit: Thinkstock/chargerv8

Here's a rare fish that, had there been internet slideshows in 1937, would not be present in this feature. The coelacanth was long presumed to have gone extinct more than 60 million years ago. Well, until one was found off the coast of South Africa in 1938.

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Photo Credit: Thinkstock/Atypeek

Also from the aquatic realm, the pallid sturgeon evolved during the Cretaceous, about 70 million years ago, and hasn't changed much since.

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Photo Credit: US Fish & WIldlife Service/Ken Bouc, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission

Sea turtles evolved during the Cretaceous, more than 100 million years ago. This modern leatherback has relatives from that time.

Photo Credit: Thinkstock/CaronB

The duck-billed platypus is one of just two remaining species of monotreme – egg-laying mammals. Monotremes date back 210 million years ago to the Triassic Period. It looks like it's built from spare animal parts – duck's bill, tail like a beaver – and it even has a venomous bone spur on its hind leg that, while not lethal, could certainly put a crimp in a human's day.

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Photo Credit: Thinkstock/JohnCarnemolla

Clawed lobster fossils date back some 140 million years, putting them smack in the middle of the dinosaur era.

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Photo Credit: Thinkstock

Today's insects came on the scene either before dinosaurs or while the giants roamed Earth.

Bees, those important pollinators, and occasionally painful stingers of today, have been around since the Early Cretaceous, more than 100 million years ago.

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Photo Credit: Thinkstock/Kosolovskyy