Dinosaurs first appeared during the Triassic period of the Mesozoic Era, where they then ruled as Earth’s dominant terrestrial vertebrates for close to 175 million years. This diverse group of reptiles made up of about 700 different species continued to prevail as top members of the food chain for centuries – when suddenly, a mass extinction event wiped them off the face of the planet.
Paleontologists study extinct life through investigating fossilized remains like bones and teeth, where evidential findings lead to conclusions about dietary habits, adaptational developments, and behavioral patterns. Drawing from the widespread amount of archeological documentation that helps paint this prehistoric timeline, natural history artists are able to outline both this historical narrative and perceived dinosaur anatomy with hyper-specific detail. The following graphics serve to highlight how visually-stimulating graphics can be used to add a captivating element to the translation of educational information.
1.) *Anchiornis* by Justine Lee Hirten – Created for a private client, this digital rendering depicts the skeletal structure and feathering of a winged dinosaur. Anchiornis fossils dating back to 160 million years ago have been found only in Liaoning, China, where their highly-intact preservation indicated pigment-bearing melanosomes within its feathers, which resulted in the Anchiornis becoming one of the first Mesozoic dinosaur species to have its appearance fully identified.
2.) *Tyrannosaurus Rex* by Peg Gerrity – Designed for a textbook, this illustration depicts one of the largest meat-eating dinosaurs that ever lived. Fossil evidence shows that the Tyrannosaurus Rex was approximately eighteen feet tall and twenty feet long, where scientists hypothesize that this predator could eat up to 500 pounds of meat in one bite.
3.) *Pteranodon and Nestlings* by Anne Sharp – Technically speaking, Pteranodons weren’t actually dinosaurs. However, they were some of the largest known flying reptiles to exist (with wingspans over 26 feet)! Pteranodons lived during the late Cretaceous geological period of North America in present-day South Dakota, Kansas, Alabama, Nebraska, and Wyoming.
4.) *Comparison of Dinosaur brain size* by Laurie O’Keefe – Created for a museum’s exhibit art, this visual compares the hypothesized brain size differences between cold-blooded and warm-blooded dinosaurs.
5.) *Asteroid Dinosaur Extinction* by Nicolle Rager Fuller – Created for the cover of Earth magazine, this graphic depicts an unfortunate dinosaur witnessing the impending asteroid impact.
Furthermore, these graphic renderings both showcase the ways compelling visuals can help shape our understandings of natural history and serve as examples for how these illustrator’s artistic talents can be utilized for educational purposes. As outlining the many details we’ve gathered as a society regarding distant time periods can be a lot to wrap our heads around, these works of art remind us of the beauty that exists within our planet’s historical narrative.