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A Jurassic World

by Juan-Pablo Pina


152 million years ago, Late Jurassic...

Morrison Formation, Utah...

Evening...


One of the most famous pieces of dinosaur media is Speilberg’s 1993 blockbuster. It was on Earth that the planet became a global Jurassic Park.


The sun was high in the sky but about to dip behind the desert mountains. But the day was still pleasant. The dry season, which had not yet hit the land with its wrathful droughts, had just begun, so the vegetation and rivers were still fresh. Life was good for the young Diplodocus


Though he was a little past his hatchling years, he was already the size of a white rhinoceros. He reached out his neck, bit down on a leaf, and ripped it off with his teeth, stripping it bare and consuming only the nutritious parts. Giraffes and okapis do something similar with their prehensile tongues rather than their teeth and jaws. The youngster continued to chow down on the leaf, staying tuned in to the elephant-like infrasonic rumbles that his herd used to communicate.


Beetles, grasshoppers, spiders, and worms all moved about the foliage unseen while the light of the dying sun created faint red rays that poked through the thick canopy. The babbles, bellows, hoots, rumbles, and trills of distant and nearby animals only added to the atmosphere along with the ferocious heat. Peaceful as this scene may be, there is no such thing as “safe” in this Jurassic world. Nearby, peering out from a hole in a bush, was a golden and reptilian eye. But it belonged to a truly terrifying animal. It belonged to a Saurophaganax


Adults can get to be the size of the largest African elephants and have long arms ending in three fingers, each equipped with long, scimitar-like talons. Their heads are similar to those of Allosaurus in that they are boxy and adorned with a pair of crests. And while the crests of Allosaurus are jagged, the ones on Saurophaganax are far blunter and more brightly colored. These theropods are, in a way, the natural equivalent to the Indominus rex from Jurassic World. This young male, about the size of an African forest elephant had a pair of crimson crests which gave him a look similar to an Aztec warrior’s headdress. He peered through the thick undergrowth, scanning the area for any disturbances that might ruin his hunt. But there were none. He had this in the bag. All he had to do was make the kill as quietly and quickly as possible. Whatever it took.


GREEOOGNK!!!

SKREEENT!!!


The theropod exploded out of the underbrush, arms and jaws open. In that split second only one thought filled the young sauropod’s mind: RUN. So it took off into the woods with a squeal of panic, a terrified cry for help. But nothing could save him now.

The predator’s very footsteps sounded like gunshots, thunderous impacts that only brought the prey closer to its grisly demise. The wind screamed past the two dinosaurs while sticks and vegetation lashed at their faces and feet. The young Diplodocus kept running and running, his heart hammering so hard he could even hear it while his breathing was fast and shallow. His throat felt dry and his lungs burned while his leg muscles were already aching. But he had to keep running. He must go faster. The patchwork of light and dark created by the sunlight and the canopy made the world of the young dinosaur a blur. But the carnivore was in control. He knew his prey would panic. All he had to do was keep chasing until the Diplodocus finally gave in, leaving itself at the mercy of the reaper dragon’s claws.


Just a little bit closer…


Finally the young Diplodocus made it out of the forest, the red light of the setting sun almost blinding him. The dust that he kicked up in his hast choked him and only stung as he rapidly inhaled and exhaled, his systems working overtime. The Saurophaganax was not far behind. He began to open his jaws, revealing dozens of teeth as sharp as a battle ax. One swipe of his scimitar-like claws or a swing of his razor jaws would do the trick.


Just a little bit closer!


KKRRAAAPPPOOOWWW!!!


Out of nowhere, for the Saurophaganax, there was an impact that felt like a freight train as fast as lightning. Then there was flying and hellish agony. Then an impact. Then…nothing…


Murr…


The youngster looked up at the colossus, rubbing its leg with his head while letting out a deep moan of gratitude and relief. The giant, however, simply looked down upon the corpse of the reaper dragon. This absolute behemoth was an adult Diplodocus. What’s more, this was the youngster’s mother. And right now, mommy’s very angry.

She glared down upon the body of her son’s assailant, the end of her tail, which was soaked in blood, twirling about in the air.


The jaw of the Saurophaganax had not only been dislocated but also shattered. The theropod’s eyes were wide open, frozen in their anguished and confused state. Dozens of teeth lay on the dusty earth while blood pooled at the animal’s mouth. Huge chunks of hide had been torn off, exposing bright red flesh and even bone. When you’re the length of the Hollywood sign and have a tail that makes up three quarters of that, it’s easy to see how it can be used as a lethal weapon. Adult specimens can use their tails like biological bullwhips that could break the sound barrier. And their ends, which were tipped with keratin knobs like those of an iguana, have the capacity to inflict lethal damage that could easily break bone.


Suddenly the two herbivores detected something: infrasonic signals made by the rest of the herd. It was time to go. As the mother and son left to join the rest of the herd, a very small animal walked out of the forest. It was a large lizard similar to a monitor. It simply walked up to the corpse, looked inside the mouth, and began to chow down, tearing down walls of hide and flesh that were already weakened by the shattered bone. Eventually small pterosaurs and even birds joined in along with scavenging weevils. But soon the scent of death would spread, attracting predatory megafauna like the bus-sized theropod Torvosaurus to the body of the Saurophaganax.


As the herd left, the young Diplodocus noticed other dinosaurs that had been resting near a creek the entire team. This creek would, like waterholes in Africa, become a death trap for animals. At first, it would be an oasis before being cut off from the source, solidifying its role as a wildlife beacon. It would dry and dry, making tensions spike and the body count rise. Eventually, it would become nothing more than a quagmire that would ensnare any animals desperate enough to try and scrape out any remaining water. But that was a long time from now. For the moment, at least, things were peaceful.

As the herd walked past the conifer grove, they spotted a herd of browsing Camarasaurus. Though not the largest of all sauropods, they are nearly the length of a bowling lane. But what’s even more special is that they are the most populous sauropod to have ever lived on the North American continent, the highest concentration being here in the Morrison. So they must’ve been doing something right. Perhaps it was their simple yet effective body plan that made them the standard macronarian sauropod, the clade that included animals like Camarasaurus and Brachiosaurus, the latter also being a Morrison native. Were the high numbers of Camarasaurus due to their chisel-like teeth and smaller sizes? Or did they have a faster rate of reproduction? Matter of fact, how did so many animals of such massive sizes live in one place?


The answer is very simple. Just as jobs are divided up in certain facilities, not every animal goes after the same food source. For example: zebras crop grasses before blue wildebeests feed on the shortened stalks since they’re more adapted to feed on low-nutrient foods. Another example is how giraffes feed on trees and animals like the aforementioned equines feed on lower grasses. It's a subtle yet incredibly effective method that’s been dubbed “niche partitioning”. And while we don’t know the favored foods of Morrison sauropods like Apatosaurus, Barosaurus, and Diplodocus, there must’ve been some niche partitioning going on. Or were certain animals designed in some way to be more susceptible to predators than others, thus limiting their maximum populations and allowing so many species to exist in one place? We can’t tell. We do know, though, that the Morrison wasn’t just a realm of giants.


Obscured by the dense foliage of the conifer grove was another herbivorous dinosaur: Dryosaurus. They were gazelle-sized ornithopods, bipedal ornithischian herbivores. Ornithopods, part of the ornithischian clade of dinosaurs, started out as diminutive bipedal herbivores before growing to the size of elephants in the Cretaceous. Animals that the ornithopods would sire include the incredibly adaptive iguanodontids (like the iguana tooths) that would take over almost every continent and the hadrosaurids (like the bulky lizards) that would give rise to beasts like the bizarrely ornamented Parasaurolophus (like crested lizard) and the colossal Shantungosaurus (Shandong lizard).


But Dryosaurus lived a life more like a springbok’s (Antidorcas marsupialis) than a large herbivore. Not only did they run like a roadrunner but they also jumped like the aforementioned antelope. Dryosaurus were omnivorous, occasionally feeding on things like beetle larvae, centipedes, and eggs. They also lived in clans similar to mongooses with sentries and nest-carers. An old male, his face adorned with red flaps of skin like a rooster, looked up at the curious young sauropod from behind a shrub. His golden eyes peered through the branches along with those of the other Dryosaurus who silently guarded their nests and mates.


As the sun set behind the Morrsion mountains, the sky turned from gold to blood red while the migrating herd of Diplodocus was silhouetted against the dying sun. But so was the forest, the Camarasaurus wading in the river, and the Camptosaurus that drank at the water’s edge. Not only that, everything seemed to be bathed in an ethereal and primordial light, showcasing just how strange, savage, and beautiful this lost world really was as shadows grew long and the rivers seemed to become a low mauve.

Giant reptiles with immensely long necks made the ground quake with every step of their elephantine feet as they towered over the surrounding conifers and cycads. Bird-like superpredators with long, ax-like jaws and scimitar-like talons preyed upon colossal megaherbivores armed with whip-like tails and sheer size. Thousands of miles away, giant oceanic predators harvested the bounties of their kingdoms by the sea while hollow-boned dragons rode the thermal air currents above the rolling waves.


What would a human feel if placed in such a world?

Awe?

Fear?

Respect?

Reverence?

Smallness?

This was a world where nature was free to dream and allow her various creations to compete, forcing them to evolve and mutate into grander and stranger forms. The evolutionary tree, free of any shackles of fire or ice, was able to expand and grow faster than almost any other time in Earth’s history. The planet was teeming with millions, no, billions of plants and animals that exhibited such strange traditions that trying to understand them was borderline impossible. Perhaps one might not be surprised to see a little old man dressed in white and holding a cane say,

“Welcome to Jurassic Park.”

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