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Dinosaurs are a diverse group of reptiles. They were the dominant terrestrial vertebrates for over 160 million years, from the late Triassic period (about 230 million years ago) until the end of the Cretaceous period (about 65 million years ago), when the Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event caused the extinction of most dinosaur species, except for some birds. The fossil record indicates that birds evolved from theropod dinosaurs during the Jurassic period, and most paleontologists regard them as the only group of dinosaurs to have survived until the present day.

Paleontologists have identified over 500 distinct genera and more than 1,000 different species of non-avian dinosaurs. Dinosaurs are represented on every continent by both extant species and fossil remains. Some dinosaurs are or were herbivorous, others carnivorous. Some have been bipedal, others quadrupedal, and others have been able to shift between these body postures. Many non-avian species developed elaborate skeletal modifications such as bony armor, horns or crests. Avian dinosaurs have been the planet's dominant flying vertebrate since the extinction of the pterosaurs. Although generally known for the large size of some species, most dinosaurs were human-sized or even smaller. Most groups of dinosaurs are known to have built nests and laid eggs.

The term "dinosaur" was coined in 1842 by the English paleontologist Richard Owen, and derives from Greek δεινός (deinos) "terrible, powerful, wondrous" + σαῦρος (sauros) "lizard". Through the first half of the twentieth century, most of the scientific community mistakenly believed dinosaurs to have been sluggish, unintelligent cold-blooded animals. Most research conducted since the 1970s, however, has indicated that dinosaurs were active animals with elevated metabolisms and numerous adaptations for social interaction.

Since the first dinosaur fossils were recognized in the early nineteenth century, mounted dinosaur skeletons have been major attractions at museums around the world, and dinosaurs have become a part of world culture. They have been featured in best-selling books and films such as Jurassic Park, and new discoveries are regularly covered by the media. The outdated image of dinosaurs as maladapted extinct monsters has led to the word "dinosaur" entering the vernacular to describe anything that is impractically large, slow-moving, obsolete, or bound for extinction.

Cultural depictions

Public enthusiasm for dinosaurs first developed in Victorian England, where in 1854, three decades after the first scientific descriptions of dinosaur remains, the famous dinosaur sculptures were unveiled in London's Crystal Palace Park. The Crystal Palace dinosaurs proved so popular that a strong market in smaller replicas soon developed. In subsequent decades, dinosaur exhibits opened at parks and museums around the world, ensuring that successive generations would be introduced to the animals in an immersive and exciting way. Dinosaurs' enduring popularity, in its turn, has resulted in significant public funding for dinosaur science, and has frequently spurred new discoveries. In the United States, for example, the competition between museums for public attention led directly to the Bone Wars of the 1880s and 1890s, during which a pair of feuding paleontologists made enormous scientific contributions.

The popular preoccupation with dinosaurs has ensured their appearance in literature, film and other media. Beginning in 1852 with a passing mention in Charles Dickens' Bleak House, dinosaurs have been featured in large numbers of fictional works. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's 1912 book The Lost World, the iconic 1933 film King Kong, 1954's Godzilla and its many sequels, the best-selling 1990 novel Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton and its 1993 film adaptation are just a few notable examples of dinosaur appearances in fiction. Authors of general-interest non-fictional works about dinosaurs, including some prominent paleontologists, have often sought to use the animals as a way to educate readers about science in general. Dinosaurs are ubiquitous in advertising; numerous companies have referenced dinosaurs in printed or televised advertisements, either in order to sell their own products or in order to characterize their rivals as slow-moving, dim-witted or obsolete.[1]