#2. The Punk Rock Dimetrodon
The defining feature of the dimetrodon is its sail:
Charles R. Knight, via Wikimedia
Along with its propensity to look hilarious during heavy winds.
But this wasn't always the case. Back in the early days of paleontology, when scientists were digging up these skeletons, dressing them in funny hats, and performing vaudeville routines, all that remained of dimetrodon's sails after millions of years were rows of bony spikes. That's why the first re-creations of this dinosaur looked more like a walking mohawk:
H.F. Cleland, via Brian Switek
Seen here in one of the few illustrations that didn't feature a safety pin nose piercing.
Back in 1911, German paleontologist Otto Jaekel proposed that dimetrodon's protruding back spikes were a defensive weapon against predators -- sort of a giant, reptilian hedgehog. Which is, of course, totally awesome, and we could see why he said it. Then he got a bit carried away making up awesome crap about thunder-lizards and went on to posit that dimetrodon could twist its spine around like a corkscrew, pointing its spikes in all directions like a hellish Tinkertoy wheel.
Dimetrodon also had a vegetarian cousin, edaphosaurus, who was given the same sail-less treatment on the wall of the Berlin Aquarium. The bones of edaphosaurus had little branches sticking out of them, which our old friend Edward Drinker Cope thought might've helped the animal blend in with the undergrowth of a wooded environment.
Berlin Aquarium, via Dinosaurpalaeo
Yep. Totally blending in. Where is the giant friggin' dinosaur in this picture?!
Failing that, Cope had an alternate explanation: Instead of having one big sail, each of edaphosaurus' sailbones supported an individual sail, like the masts on a ship, and these sails could be turned to the wind for the animal to navigate the surface of prehistoric lakes. That's right, the sail of edaphosaurus was thought to be used for actual sailing. Just a big ol' vicious lizard, using his belly as a boat and yachting about with his backfins.
Remember: Both cocaine and heroin used to be totally legal back in the day.
#1. All Our Modern Versions Are Probably Ridiculous, Too
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images News/Getty Images
Hey, remember when scientists discovered that T. rex probably had feathers? Oh, you actually physically can't forget, because we've pounded that information into your brain so many times that it's replaced your own phone number? Sorry about that. But yeah, it turns out this rabbit hole goes a lot deeper.
Isn't it strange that dinosaurs all look pretty much exactly like their skeletons with a bit of meat stretched over them? You know that's not how living animals work. We've shown you the terror lurking beneath the skin already. The phenomenon of dinosaurs closely resembling their skeletons is known as shrink-wrapped dinosaur syndrome, and if we drew today's animals by the same standards, we'd end up with baboons straight from the concept art for Resident Evil:
Or how about a beautiful swan, transformed into a terrifying predator that spears fish with its scythe-like arms:
In fairness, the updated swan paddle boats are pretty kickass.
In reality, the truth about what dinosaurs really looked like is open to as much speculation as your imagination will allow. There's really no way of knowing if dinosaurs had feathers, or turkey crests, or even trunks.
In light of this, some authors have put together a book speculating about what might actually pop out if we ever manage to clone dinosaurs like in Jurassic Park:
At least the feathered T. rex can feel a little less ridiculous.
Nobody's saying the above representations are accurate -- it's pure guesswork. But hard evidence for this sort of thing is cropping up already: A recent discovery of a duck-billed edmontosaurus in Canada came preserved with a flappy rooster's comb on top of its head. It's precisely the sort of bizarre crap that you find on modern animals all the time:
Julius Csotonyi / Current Biology
"The crest is almost stupid-looking enough, but could we draw his snout to look like ridiculous buck teeth, too?"
So basically we're saying that all those terrifying, lean, sleek killing machines from Jurassic Park may have never existed, at least not in the way you think of them. In reality, they could have been a bunch of waddle-having, flappy-skinned, feathered, bright purple goofballs.
Related Reading: If you think Hunter-Gatherers lived lives of miserable starvation, than you're even more wrong than all those paleontologists. For the hilariously stupid versions of our modern animals, you'd be best served by clicking here. And if you'd rather look at some ancient animals that will give you waking nightmares, this article can oblige. Say hello to the Murderbird with a 40-foot wingspan for us!