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Pre-Flood predatory dinosaur interactions and the fossil record

Published: 22 February 2020 (GMT+10)

A reader from Ukraine, B.V., asks some interesting questions about what dinosaurs are found buried together and why. His message follows, with a response from Philip Bell, intended to provoke fruitful thought on the topic, not as an exhaustive answer to the questions raised.

wikipedia.orgTyrannosaurus
Tyrannosaurus

How did that many animals get along before the Flood? For example, there were such apex predators in North America, as Tyrannosaurus, Daspletosaurus, Siats, Acrocanthosaurus, Torvosaurus, Allosaurus etc.

We see traces of interaction between T. rex and Triceratops, Allosaurus and Stegosaurus. If they lived at the same time, why don’t we see traces of interaction between T. rex and Stegosaurus or Allosaurus and Triceratops?

There were some intelligent and agile creatures among dinosaurs. Why aren’t they as high as most of mammals in the fossil record?1

Philip Bell replies:

Thank you for your question. I’d like to answer your question in a slightly unusual way.

Today, there are many predatory animals alive on Earth, some of them large and dangerous. Take the continent of Africa as an example. Discounting insect-related disease and pestilence (mosquitos and locusts particularly), the most deadly animals in Africa are:

  1. hippopotamus,
  2. elephant,
  3. black mamba (snake),
  4. Nile crocodile,
  5. lion,
  6. rhino (both ‘black’ and ‘white’ species).

All these animals are dangerous to humans. The lion is, of course, an apex predator. We could single out many other animals from across the world that are dangerous to other animals, also to mankind. Yet, it’s not a problem because the world is a very big place.

Prior to the Noahic Flood, there would also have been an abundance of habitat for a wealth of animals of all sorts. Even after the Fall/Curse (Genesis 3), when the original rules of herbivory and harmony began to break down—the onset of some predation, parasitism, etc.—one would assume that predator/prey relationships quickly became established, including for the many sorts of dinosaurs that we know existed, from their fossil remains.

Just as today, where apex predators normally keep out of each other’s way (e.g. the many species of Felidae [cats]) and generally avoid violent interactions, the pre-Flood land areas were certainly large enough for the same sort of thing to have occurred. Also, remember that absence of evidence (in this case direct fossil evidence) is not evidence for absence. Palaeontology is littered with examples of discoveries that revealed species to be contemporaneous that had previously not been understood to have lived at the same time or place. You mention the example of two predators, T. rex and Allosaurus, and two herbivores, Stegosaurus and Triceratops. Not only is it likely that the two predatory dinosaurs mentioned did not share exactly the same habitats and prey items (which might explain the absence of certain combinations of predator/prey fossils) but future fossil finds may well overturn current models. Fossil ranges are constantly being extended as new finds are made—see, for example, these articles by Michael J. Oard from recent years:

2010 – Further expansion of evolutionary fossil time ranges

2012 – Fossil ranges continue to expand

2013 – Fossil range extensions continue

2017 – Fossil time ranges continue to expand up and down

2019 – More expansion of fossil time ranges, Journal of Creation 33(3):3–4, December 2019.

Some of these fossil range expansions involve moving evolutionary time boundaries by 100 million years or even more. The above articles furnish many examples in the scientific literature. (I myself have kept an ever-expanding super-list of such expansions for around 20 years which I intend to publish at some point in the near future.) These facts alone make it unwise to draw too-strong conclusions about what was contemporary with what in the past.

You asked why we don’t find intelligent, agile dinosaurs “as high as most mammals in the fossil record”. It’s an interesting question and one which I’d like to see more creationist palaeontologists address. One of the reasons, I suspect, is that the fossil record, speaking in very general terms, seems to reflect the successive burial of pre-Flood ecosystems. Today, we see many aquatic ecosystems: the benthic (deep sea) ecosystem, profundal ecosystem, oceanic, marine shelf, shallow sea, and coral reef ecosystems. The latter, as I have listed them, are moving roughly from deep sea to shallow sea. On land, we see shoreline, salt marshes, wetlands, deserts, prairies/savannas, temperature forests, coniferous forests, taiga, tundra, mountains, etc.

Many Flood models assume that a similar variety of ecosystems existed pre-Flood, successively buried as the flood water rose higher and higher, inundating more and more of the land masses of that time. If so, consider some implications. Since reptiles are ‘cold blooded’, they tend to be found at lower altitudes and in lower latitudes too. It is mammals and birds (with their insulating fur and feathers) that can acclimatise to greater extremes of temperature associated with higher latitude and higher altitudes. I believe this goes a long way to explaining the general lack of reptiles (dinosaurs included) in the rock units higher up the geological record, especially the latter part of the Cenozoic. For more information, please see Order in the fossil record.

I trust these thoughts are helpful.

Yours sincerely,
Philip

References and notes

  1. The genus names of these dinosaurs given by the enquirer have been capitalized and italicized, as per taxonomic convention. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

Exploring Dinosaurs with Mr Hibb
by Michael Oard, Tara Wolfe, Chris Turbuck, Gary Bates
US $17.00
Hard Cover
Guide to Dinosaurs
by Brian Thomas and Tim Clarey
US $17.00
Hard Cover
Exploring Dinosaurs with Mr Hibb
by Michael Oard, Tara Wolfe, Chris Turbuck, Gary Bates
US $12.00
eReader (.epub)

Readers’ comments

Rodney H.
Really appreciate your answer!
We ( at least I ) usually want simplistic answers to varied and complex questions.
Hadn’t thought about altitude being a thing affecting location of burial before.
Clearly just another factor to consider.....
Christopher M.
Dear Philip.

Love your answer. It is beautiful.

Many thanks.

Chris M.
Nichola W.
Interesting response. I heard recently that Israelis have worked out that dinosaurs were warm blooded. I don't really understand how they did it but it's supposed to be valid.

I wonder how that would affect things.
Philip Bell
Please see my answer to Barry B. Also, as you say, new research does offer a glimmer of support for the warm blooded dino idea. The Times of Israel reported on 14 February 2020 : "New research technique employed at Hebrew University allowed team to gauge temperature in which eggs were formed — and thus whether mother could regulate her body heat." Interesting research but a far cry from a demonstration of warm 'bloodedness'. It remains a very controversial theory among dinosaur palaeontologists. This is the original paper referred to:
Dawson, R.R. et al, Eggshell geochemistry reveals ancestral metabolic thermoregulation in Dinosauria, Science Advances 6(7), 14 Feb 2020 | DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aax9361.

Barry B.
Yes, a good answer, but isn't it true that at least some dinosaurs, unlike most reptiles, are warm blooded and could therefore inhabit colder environments?
Philip Bell
Whether or not some dinosaurs were cold blooded is controversial. Some scientists have argued that discoveries of 'polar dinosaurs' means they must have been cold adapted and warm blooded. Many palaeontologists disagree. To read a comprehensive explanation of the hot vs cold blood anatomical adaptations in various animals, plus fossil evidence that's interpreted in support of warm bloods, including for dinosaurs, see the appropriately subtitled sections of my review article on creation.com, here: /images/pdfs/tj/j16_1/j16_1_36-40.pdf
Raymond S.
I once dropped an anole lizard into a washtub of water. To my surprise he moved his tail like a whip and quickly was across and out of the washtub. I wonder if dinosaur tails at least in part helped them in a low-lying jungle habitat to quickly cross or even navigate rivers. Whether warm-blooded or not, they were likely designed for habitats crossed by many rivers just inland of the swamps that were dominated by amphibian fossils. Mammals were likely designed more for highlands and plateaus.
Philip Bell
There is plenty of fossil evidence suggesting that many dinosaurs could swim. Just one of the articles on creation.com of relevance is A stampede of swimming dinosaurs.
Douglas W.
The book on Dinosaurs by Thomas and Clarey is really fine, as was your presentation in Milnrow (UK), yesterday.
Philip Bell
Indeed, we do encourage readers to find out more using the highlighted dinosaur books alongside this article; and see also DVDS on the subject using CMI's web store. The framework and main teaching points of my dinosaur presentation in northern England (24 February), in simplified form (including 'The 7 Ds for Discovering Dinosaurs'), should also appear as a book for children in the near future, God-willing. Watch this space!
Landon H.
I do not think there would have been enough space for all of the animals in a pre flood world (with all of the fossils which are probably not even all of the animals alive at the time), perhaps there were pre flood local catastrophes keeping the earth in balance.
Philip Bell
Space for animals and plants pre-Flood would not have been a problem. Several things need to be considered. Firstly, whereas today the Earth is predominantly covered by water (just 28% land, 72% water), there is good reason to believe that the pre-Flood continent(s) would have been much more extensive. Some believe there is evidence for one large continent. Where would all the extra water existing today have come from. Well, Scripture says that “all the fountains of the great deep burst forth” at the onset of the Flood (Genesis 7:11).
Geological research over the last 20 years has revealed vast amounts of water (in various forms) still exist in the crust and even mantle of the Earth. See for example:





Secondly, it is unlikely that the pre-Flood continental land mass(es) were given over to large areas of desert. Desertification of much of today's world has resulted from climate change, drying out of once-lush areas; e.g. the whole Sahel Zone of north Africa as a good example.

Thirdly, it is also likely that the many mountain chains observed today (some of them pushed to great heights through orogenic episodes that mostly occurred during the year-long Flood) were largely absent from the pre-Flood world. True, high mountains/hills existed (see Genesis 7:19-20) but today's extremes of high altitude, super-cold temperatures and rarified air etc. (which are relatively inhospitable to life; whether plants, trees or animals) were likely largely absent. There had not yet been an Ice Age (which only followed the Noahic Flood; search on 'Ice Age' at creation.com to read more) and the climate pre-Flood was very equable for life as Genesis 2:5-6 indicates.

In short, I believe it is unnecessary to invoke local pre-Flood catastrophes in order to cull animals and keep the Earth from overcrowding. Moreover, the Bible gives no hint of such things taking place.
Ronald W.
Slightly more difficult to answer (but in turn, an opportunity for further creationist research and careful consideration) is to explain how marine fossils aren't more 'mixed.' That is, how come dolphin fossils are not found alongside say the Dunkleosteus armoured fish or their famous reptilian lookalikes the ichthyosaurs. Presumably in the more open interconnected marine environment there would be more opportunities to 'mix' together. Or somehow maybe not ?.....
Philip Bell
We've come quite a way from this feedback's main question! Agreed, this is an interesting question and one that I hope that future creation research may throw more light on. But remember my comment in the article itself: "Today, we see many aquatic ecosystems: the benthic (deep sea) ecosystem, profundal ecosystem, oceanic, marine shelf, shallow sea, and coral reef ecosystems." Therein lies part of the answer: you would expect catastrophic burial of organisms living together in those different marine environments to show up as very different marine fossil assemblages, albeit with the possibility of mixing. Creatures like the placoderms (armoured fish) are generally accepted to have been bottom dwellers whereas dolphins (as breathing mammals) must live near the surface, and indeed they are famous for swimming in schools and for playfully breaching the surface. I'd think it highly unlikely that a dolphin would be found buried with a member of Dunkleosteus sp. In fact, if such were found in the same fossil layer, it would certainly take some explaining from an evolutionary point of view!
Courtney K.
The article mentions two things: competition and mosquitoes. The opposite of competition is collaboration, and is mostly what we see in the relationships between organisms. For context (where I got the idea) please see here: [link deleted per feedback rules] Microorganisms are part of this collaboration. Knowing that mosquitoes transport diseases nowadays, obviously that wasn't their role in the past. So I [speculate] that the mosquito's original role might have been to transport these non-harmful (before the Fall) bacteria, viruses, and parasites from host to host as well, maybe for biodiversity purposes. The whole idea of parasites came from here: "the onset of some predation, parasitism".
Even after the Fall, we still see mutual relationships rather than just competition, predator-prey, and parasite-host. Darwinism was founded on the idea of competition. How did these organisms evolve to benefit one another? Mosquitoes spread diseases today, but I think that originally their role pre-Fall was the same, except that viruses, bacteria, and parasites were all non-harmful, functional and beneficial. Today, viruses and bacteria serve important functions to the immune system and many other systems of the body, so I wonder if the role of the mosquito originally was to transport these microorganisms between multiple organisms, maybe to spread biodiversity. Sort of like what dirt does today.
Philip Bell
These are interesting thoughts, though they do go well beyond the question of the original enquirer and my feedback. For further reading on the possible function of now-pathogenic microorganisms prior to the Fall/Curse (Genesis 3), see:
For subscribers to Journal of Creation, there is also a recent useful article of direct relevance to this feedback:
Shipton, W.A., Destructive parasites: expressions of God’s creation? Journal of Creation 33(2):84-92, August 2019. This discusses mosquitos extensively. There is an approx. two-year moratorium on articles in the print edition of the journal (i.e. before they are published on creation.com) in fairness to paying subscriber s but back issues can be ordered through the webstore.


Antonio F.
The presumption that the land masses were all that were in the pre-flood world is a little off putting since all we know is that what we see today is what remains of the backbone of the pre-flood world with a whole of sediment on it showing a very small amount of creatures being caught up in a massive global catastrophe. The top 600km of the mantle is very different from the rest of it and so one could reason that there was a lot of top-bottom swapping of material in a very short amount of time. A lot of purported missing fossils could have been taken down and basically disintegrated in the upper mantle. Take also into consideration the heavy bombardment episode and Baumgardner's movement of material during CPT, the pre-flood world would have looked considerably different having implications for the ecosystems that existed pre-flood.

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