Dino Mad Kids

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Everyone is dinosaur mad right now. The kids, the grownups. The grannies. And what better place to be dino mad than in Scotland. Kelvingrove in Glasgow has just opened a new exhibition about dinosaur nests, babies and eggs. Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh gives kids the chance to outrun a dinosaur. Edinburgh Zoo is daring to ‘bring back’ dinosaurs (life sized ones in enclosures, Jurassic Park style) to teach people about the very real threat of extinction of today’s animals.  You’re spoiled for choice this Easter.

If you want to escape the crowds and still sate your kid’s appetite for T-Rexs, Stegosaurs and Triceratops, venture out and explore Scotland’s beaches, hills and rivers.

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So where do you take them and how do you explain the more mind boggling facts? How do you become your own kid’s dinosaur expert!?

Top Facts – Which dinosaurs actually roamed Scotland?

  • There was the plant-eating humongous sauropod, the Cetiosaurus,
  • Then there was the infamous and forever cool, Stegosaurus,
  • The slightly less well known but still as scary as hell, the older cousin to Mr T-Rex – the Megalosaurus,
  • The cat sized, hollow boned, meat eating Saltopus,
  • The 1 metre in size Ornithopod, that grazed in herds like cows,
  • The dolphin like Ichthyosaur which could grow to sixteen metres in length,
  • The monster centipede called the Arthropleura,
  • And, not to be left out, the Woolly Mammoth.

Where can you see them?

Pretty much everywhere!

I asked one of Scotland’s leading Palaeontologists Dr Steve Brusatte where to go to see some of the Scotland’s best dinosaurs. Here are a few of his suggestions.

The Isle of Skye

Skye, nicknamed dinosaur isle, is one of the best places to learn about our prehistoric past. On the beach at An Corran, Staffin, you can actually see footprints left by a family of dinosaurs walking across the sand around 165 million years ago. It was a group of Ornithopods, herbivorous creatures who walked on two legs that grazed the land.

The prints are covered by the sea at high tide, and are often covered by sand in the summer but a real treat if you do mange to catch them.

Granton

On the coast near Edinburgh. The first example of the fossil crustacean Waterstonella was found in the Granton shrimp beds. Please bear in mind, the foreshore area between Granton and Newhaven is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) which means you shouldn’t be taking any fossils home.

Pentland Hills – Edinburgh

Just a hop, skip and a jump away from Edinburgh city centre, the pretty Pentland Hills are awash with fossils. The hills can pose difficult walking terrain so be prepared and consider only taking older children.

Aberlady

We ventured out to Aberlady about 18 miles south of Edinburgh, an attractive wee town on the coast, surrounded by golf courses. I did a bit of research before we went and found the exact location of a good set of fossils. Just below one golf course, on the beach near the red hut, are a collection of trilobite tracks (a trilobite is, to my eye, a really big woodlouse that lived in the sea), corals and shells.

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The rocks are Carboniferous which means they are actually older than dinosaurs. That’s 359 to 299 million years ago, if you can get your head round it. The Carboniferous plants are tropical with the temperature being much warmer then. Most of the time, it was like the Bahamas, the sea brimming with shellfish, corals, crinoids, sharks and other fish. When not covered by the sea, the land was one big swamp in which enormous trees grew and giant-sized centipedes, dragonflies and spiders wander the shores.  There were no dinosaurs yet, only early reptiles and amphibian.

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During this period some of Scotland was close to the equator near central Africa, some was joined to what we now call North America. England was just a big ocean.

Some of these facts are too mind bending for the average grow-up, unless of course you have a collection of letters after your name, let alone for a kid. So, I took my sons snorkel and he wore it imaging giant-sized centipedes and monstrous spiders as I told him that it used to be one big swamp.

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We took his dinosaur collection and he stomped them about in the sand, leaving footprints. I showed him the paper thin layers of rock in the cliff from a time ago I can’t even understand while a friendly seal sat in the shallows and waved his tail.

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He wanted to take every rock home but I resisted – not only are there rules (see the Scottish Fossil Code below) but we have enough fossils at home from when I was a kid – I gave him my old collection, which he now uses as asteroids in his Star Wars games.

Kids don’t need persuading that dinosaurs are cool. With a little explanation, some colourful imagery and a dash of enthusiasm, you might just kick start an interest in science that will benefit them for the rest of their lives. Fossils are cool.

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More Information

If you want to take a day out and go looking for fossils yourself I would recommend UK Fossils.

Scottish Geology is a very usable and informative website.

Scottish Fossil Code can be viewed and downloaded from www.snh.gov.uk.

But the basics are:

-Make sure you have permission for where you’re going,

-You can collect fossils in some places but not others – check before hand,

– When you do want to take some home, don’t take too many!

-If you think you’ve found something unusual, tell a local museum or expert. They might name it after you!

– Be prepared to donate a finding if they are interesting or needed for further study.

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