Dinosaursare a diverse group of animals of the cladeand superorderDinosauria. They were the dominant terrestrial vertebratesfor over 160 million years, from the late Triassicperiod (about 230 million years ago) until the end of the Cretaceous(about 65 million years ago), when the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction eventled to the extinction of all non-avian dinosaurs at the close of the Mesozoic era. The fossilrecord indicates that birdsevolvedwithin theropoddinosaurs during the Jurassicperiod. Some of them survived the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event, including the ancestors of all modern birds. Consequently, in modern classification systems, birds are considered a type of dinosaur—the only group which survived to the present day.
Dinosaurs are a varied group of animals. Birds, at over 9,000 living species, are the most diverse group of vertebrates besides perciformfish.Using fossil evidence, paleontologistshave identified over 500 distinct generaand more than 1,000 different species of non-avian dinosaurs.Dinosaurs are represented on every continent by both extantspecies and fossil remains.Some are herbivorous, others carnivorous. Many dinosaurs have been bipedal, and many extinct groups were also quadrupedal, and some were able to shift between these body postures. Many species possess elaborate display structures such as horns or crests, and some prehistoric groups even developed skeletal modifications such as bony armorand spines. Avian dinosaurs have been the planet's dominant flying vertebrate since the extinction of the pterosaurs, and evidence suggests that all ancient dinosaurs built nests and laid eggs much as avian species do today. Dinosaurs varied widely in size and weight; the smallest adult theropods were less than 100 centimeters (40 inches) long, while the largest sauropods could reach lengths of almost 50 meters (165 feet) and were several stories tall.
Although the word dinosaurmeans "terrible lizard," the name is somewhat misleading, as dinosaurs were not lizards. Rather, they were a separate group of reptiles with a distinct upright posture not found in lizards. Through the first half of the 20th century, most of the scientific community believed dinosaurs were sluggish, unintelligent, and cold-blooded. Most research conducted since the 1970s, however, has indicated that dinosaurs were active animals with elevated metabolismsand numerous adaptations for social interaction, and many groups (especially the carnivores) were among the most intelligent organisms of the time.
Since the first dinosaur fossilswere recognized in the early 19th century, mounted fossil dinosaur skeletons or replicas have been major attractions at museums around the world, and dinosaurs have become a part of world culture. Their diversity, the large sizes of some groups, and their seemingly monstrous and fantastic nature have captured the interest and imagination of the general public for over a century. They have been featured in best-selling books and films such as Jurassic Park, and new discoveries are regularly covered by the media.