Why are dinosaurs so popular?

On a recent road trip, I was discussing the SDMB with a friend of mine who is a librarian. She suggested I ask this: Whenever they have a program on dinosaurs at the library, they get completely swamped. Nothing else they do gets this kind of response. Boys and girls are nuts about dinos, so it’s not gender based. Although most of the kids fall into a certain age range, they get a lot of older kids and adults, so it’s not as age-related as a lot of other things people go nuts over (pre-adolescent girls going crazy for horses, for example). It’s not a fad like Pogs or stickers; this happens every year.

Why is this? They’re big? They’re lizards? They’re extinct? They can throw cars around and trample evil businessmen? What?

This seems to be an IMHO, but I’ll take a shot.

Dinos appeal to the sensational because they’re “monsters”, but no one is going to discourage a kid from learning about dinos in the same way they might discourage an interest in Swamp Thing or Dracula. Dinosaurs are science, so it’s a topic that’s pushed by teachers and parents while still appealing to a kid’s desire for something fantastic and spectacular.

Also, this kind of thing tends to feed itself. It’s easy for a kid to go crazy for dinosaurs because there’s so much material: toys, books, cartoons, high-quality animated science programs, etc. A similar fascination with another topic might go unfulfilled if there’s a lack of kid-friendly material about it.

They always buy us beer.

A few years back, Dave Barry had an interesting take on this. No one, especially mommy and daddy, can tell a dinosaur when to go to bed. Also, dinosaurs can eat mommy and daddy.

Yeah - everything Micco said.

My 3 1/2 year old son Jake LOVES dinosaurs. And whales. And Sharks. And Monsters. He loves being them (“okay, I’m a whale and you’re a shark” “No, no, no I’m a FRIENDLY TRex”) and loves watching them (frankly, after watching Walking with Dinosaurs from the BBC, I do, too).

Bottom line? They play into his fantasies, allow him to be scared but fun (something all kids play with in their own way), allow him to try being the pursued and the pursuer and try out different roles, and they are grounded in something (i.e., science) that parents can use to encourage learning.

What’s not to love?

Dinosaurs are very very large. Like adults.

Dinosaurs are powerful and potentially threatening. Like adults.

But, unlike adults, dinosaurs are extinct, and therefore “safe.”

Well, speaking as an adult in his early 30s who is still fascinated by dinosaurs, I would say that one reason they are so popular is because they are alien. On the surface, there is nothing like them alive today. Look at all the other well-known extinct critters: sharks? Huh. Still got 'em. Fish? Huh. Still got 'em. Big mammals, like mastadons and mammoths? Huh. We still got elephants - close enough. Lizardy-looking things? Still got 'em. Ratty-looking mammal things? Still got 'em.

But we have nothing that looks like dinosaurs (by and large, most people don’t associate “bird” with “dinosaur”, and even fewer people are aware of the degree of similarity between the two groups).

Not only are they weird lookin’, and scary lookin’, but the most well-known ones are big. Much bigger than any other terrestrial critters ever got. Certainly much bigger than any such animals alive today.

And, they are gone. Which, in itself, is kind of scary…

I agree with others who have posted here. Dinosaurs are big monsters, but they were real. They aren’t just pretend like dragons and unicorns and Godzilla–you can actually go to a museum and see real evidence that they existed. Dinosaurs were tough, too–even the plant-eating ones had ways to protect themselves. Dinosaurs are also evidence that the world didn’t always look the way it looks today, and that can be a fascinating thought as well.

I also think that interest in dinosaurs is encouraged by adults because it is science. An interest in dinosaurs can also stem interests in geology and biology. In fact, since many kids are also interested in rocks and living animals, it seems natural that they would like dinosaurs. It’s also a great example of scientists at work–there are always new dinosaurs being discovered, and new theories on how they looked and acted and how they fit into the scheme of things–what they evolved from, what they evolved into, etc. Adults are still learning about these things.

I asked my four-year-old (the budding paleontologist) why she likes dinosaurs, and she said that she likes looking at their bones because they are interesting. Perhaps that’s it–she isn’t old enough to be dissecting frogs and things like that, but she can see a dinosaur skeleton now. I also think that she likes learning and saying all those long names.

In addition to what has been said don’t forget they are also mysterous. No one REALLY knows all about them. We can guess what colors they are, what they were like but we can never be 100% certain.

Children’s imaginations feed on this. They can make them as they want and be right. Was T-Rex a preditor or a chicken. ( I love the Calvin and Hobbes Strip about this)

Calvin) T-Rex had to have been a preditor, a meat eating monster

Hobbes) Why?

Calvin) It’s just so much cooler that way

Good question. Better for IMHO, though… Jill

whoa…I start reading this thread in GQ and I finish in IMHO. It’s like…an out of body experience or a time warp or the flux capacitor or something.

Good answers so far. I certainly can’t disagree with them. Also, despite not knowing everything, the paleontologists, etc. keep coming up with new postulates to keep us all entertained. Like the T-rex might not have been the old school king of the jungle. Word has it he was really a scavenger, using his teeth to pick apart the meat and bones of the already dead.

Hey, I’m a librarian whose favorite childhood book was The shy stegasaurus. I also happily skinned every inch of exposed skin, diligently excavating highway cuts for exposed trilobites. Which are basically stone-filled roach carcasses, doncha know.

As childhood mementos, they’ve survived somwhat better than my de-plushed stuffed teddy bear, circa the same events. (But they’ll never be as collectible since, let’s face it, they’re stuck being rock roaches.)

Dave Barry is right–and so was Bill Watterson. Kids love potent, scary, imposing things because they’re not. But just knowing about Great Stuff carries magic and pure POWER.

Explains Harry Potter, Anne McCaffrey–and Calvin, whose counterpart the toy/real tiger Hobbes, hmmm?

Best part is–get well and truly imprinted by miracles and the passion LASTS. If handled carefully, immaturity can surive decades.

Who wallows happily in museums–oohing and aaahing over automated dinos, astronomy shows, mummies, rocks that glow, stuffed rattlesnakes that rattle…