The day slowly dawns and a thick mist covers a canopy of leafy trees. The temperature is mild as animals, beasts, and birds shake off slumber and survey their surroundings. Rays of sunlight poke through the mist, indicating a hot day ahead on the grassy plains of Wyoming. Big Al, a teenage Allosaurus, tips his head back and then shakes it vigorously side-to-side. He twitches his three claws on his small arms and takes a few steps on his mighty legs. His long, thick tail sweeps the grass below him, scattering twigs in all directions. He lets out a mighty roar – one of hunger and warning. He is ready to run and eat and fill his growling belly.
Big Al is the largest predator on these plains. He is a meat eater and one with the strength, speed, teeth, and claws to take down many of the creatures that roam the plains around him – the spiky stegosaurus or the plant-eating sauropods with their long tasty necks and thick bellies. He knows he can outrun them, but he also knows that he has to be careful. The stegosaurus is a cranky beast. His ferocious spikes and barbed tail are mighty weapons. The sauropods are less aggressive but much bigger. He must watch out for their massive tails and thundering feet. He knows his best chance of finding a meal is to target the younger dinosaurs, the babies, and the juveniles. Or he can hunt for a new carcass with scraps left over from a kill. Big Al is big, but he is still a teenager. He measures 26 feet long but can grow up to 40 feet, as long as a T-Rex. His muscular legs are strong and fast. His three claws twitch anxiously.
Slowly, he lumbers forward, his three clawed toes digging into the muddy earth. His fourth claw, slightly higher on the back of his foot, isn’t needed now – but it will be shortly. He picks up speed, from a slow trot to a thundering run, reaching a speed of 21 miles an hour, crashing through bushes and swaying ferns. His head is pushed forward, almost horizontal with his body like a rugby player dashing into a scrimmage, his massive tail straight behind him. He swings his head quickly from side to side, his large eyes under two horned brows searching for any movement, his nose sniffing the morning air.
Suddenly he hears the loud bellow of a plant eater ahead. She has heard his crashing and is emitting a warning call. Big Al leaps out of the brush and races onto the plain. Ahead of him, he sees a group of sauropods thundering away. Their gigantic feet pound the earth, sending shockwaves through the ground. They bellow and screech, their young racing beside them. Big Al slows his pace and stops. There is no way he can take down one of these beasts. There are too many of them and he does not have the element of surprise. He must find a different meal.
Big Al turns and wanders along the edge of the tree line. In the sky, Pterodactyls screech and soar, diving and swooping among far-off mountain ridges. Big Al plods along, his stomach grumbling, his scaly body registering the rising heat. He must find a meal before the heat and bugs become unbearable.
About an hour later, he hears some crunching and rustling in a thicket of trees. He steps forward slowly, his eyes and ears trained toward the sound. He must be very quiet and stealthy. Then he sees it. A Stegosaurus – a young one. Big Al’s mouth starts to water and his senses tingle. The fight is near. He must win and he must eat. He ducks his head lower and steps forward slowly, step by step. The Stegosaurus is so busy eating and crunching and grunting that he doesn’t hear Big Al approaching. Suddenly, Big Al lunges out of the bushes and attacks the Stegosaurus, his massive jaws opening 92 degrees, much wider than a T-Rex. He clamps down on the Stegosaurus’ neck with all his might, his sharp teeth slashing the leathery flesh. His eight-inch claws dig into the beast’s sides, scraping and making long, nasty gouges. The beast roars in surprise and fury. He flings himself to one side, causing some of his flesh to rip off in Big Al’s jaws. He swings his mighty tail and impales a spike into Big Al’s leg. Big Al roars in pain and tries to attack once more. The stegosaurus twists his body and swings his tail again, but misses. Big Al dodges left and right, trying to place another attack on the beast’s neck, while trying to dodge the mighty tail. He needs to weaken the beast by inflicting as much damage as possible. But it is proving difficult.
The stegosaurus charges and rams Big Al with his spiky head. Big Al jumps and gouges the beast with his clawed feet. He loses his balance and topples to one side. The Stegosaurus charges, ramming his leg again. Big Al roars and slashes with his claws while getting to his feet. His leg and feet are injured, but the beast is also tiring. Big Al lunges once again and chomps onto the beast’s neck as it tries to flee. He clamps down hard and holds on with 70 razor-sharp teeth, avoiding the Stegosaurus’ tail and spiky spine. The battle rages on for 10 more minutes. Big Al holds on with all his might as the beast slows and tires. Soon it is over. The Stegosaurus crumbles to the ground and dies. Big Al has won. Or so it seems.
Big Al must eat quickly before the other predators arrive – like adult Allosauruses. They have heard the crashing and roaring and can smell the kill. Big Al takes a large bite and rips the flesh away with a backward yank of his neck, like a mighty raptor, rather than side-to-side like other meat eaters. His claws clutch the skin. He takes a few more bites and then hears it – the crash of thundering legs through the brush. The predators are here! Two large Allosauruses break through the foliage and roar with excitement – and warning. Their message is clear: Leave now or you will be next! They don’t care if he is one of them. He is smaller and they will eat him just as easily as any other prey. Big Al roars and backs away, making sure to keep his eyes on the adults. His leg and feet are hurting, but he must not show it or they will consider him fair game for feasting.
Big Al turns and dashes into the trees, trotting as fast as his legs will take him to the safety of home – a ridge of boulders in the near distance. He reaches the rocky outcropping and stops to rest. His heart is beating furiously in his chest and his strength is waning. The running and the fighting have taken a toll on him even though he has fresh meat in his belly. He settles down to rest, his leg and feet throbbing. They feel worse than normal; he is more injured than he thought. With every passing hour, the pain and swelling increase. When he tries to stand, he can’t. His skin is hot and burning below his scales and blood seeps out of his wounds. Soon the insects descend and start to feast. Big Al tries to rest but the heat and insects smother him. Hour after hour, Big Al holds on. Slowly the sun sets and the insects retreat. Big Al is weak and tired and hurting. He finally drifts off to sleep. In the morning, he cannot rise. Fever and pain rack his body. He rests all day and another night. This goes on for 5 more days and nights, with Big Al slowly fading away, unable to rise or eat or drink. On the sixth day, Big Al does not wake. He is gone and soon he will be a meal for another Allosaurus. That is the circle of life on the Jurassic Plains.
Big Al’s bones lay on the plain for millions of years as dust and wind slowly bury him. Then one day, millions of years later, in 1991, a group of archeologists start digging above his grave. They dig and scrape away at the sand until one of them shouts. They’ve found something! They brush away the dirt and find a bone. Big Al’s bone. They continue to dig and scrape and brush until they uncover all of Big Al. Once more, he is in the sun. The scientists collect his bones and take him back to their laboratory. They examine his wounds and take measurements. They realize that the wound in his leg bone is the same size and shape as a Stegosaurus barb. Then other scientists report they have found the remains of a stegosaurus nearby. These second scientists measure the wounds on the stegosaurus’s neck bones and they match the size and width of Allosaurus teeth! The connection is made and they realize there was a fierce battle between the two. The stegosaurus bones show many bite marks, indicating it was a hearty meal for several predators.
The first scientists continue to study Big Al. They determine he was a juvenile by his size at 26 feet long. Adult Allosauruses can reach 40 feet long, as long as the T-Rex that will come along millions of years later. They find that Big Al suffered injuries to his leg and feet bones, plus a painful infection from wounds, thus causing his death.
They determine he is an Allosaurus, meaning “Different Lizard” or “Strange Reptile” in Latin because their small backbones are shaped like hourglasses, unlike other dinosaurs. They are part of the theropod family, dinosaurs who run on two legs. The scientists decide to call him Big Al. They assemble his bones and put him on display in a museum.
Unfortunately, Allosauruses have been relegated to obscurity with the arrival of T-Rex – the “Tyrant Lizard”- in our museums, books, and films. The Allosaurus reigned during the Jurassic period and the T-Rex roamed during the Cretaceous period much later. Although very similar, the Allosaurus is slightly smaller, with longer arms than the T-Rex. Allosauruses weighed anywhere from 1.7-2.7 tons, whereas T-Rex was larger and heavier – weighing up to 8 tons. The Allosaurus ripped his food up and backward with his jaws like raptors whereas T-Rex possibly yanked off flesh in a side-to-side fashion like crocodiles.
The Allosaurus enjoyed a quick flash of celebrity in the 1925 film, “The Lost World.” But they were pushed off their throne by T-Rex in the 1933 blockbuster “King Kong” and later “Jurassic Park” (which was actually the wrong period for the T-Rex). The poor Allosaurus once again played second fiddle to his larger, flashier successor. Where once he reigned supreme throughout Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, Oklahoma, and South Dakota in the US, plus Tanzania, Portugal, and Germany, now he resides in museums fighting for recognition among the towering T-Rexes.
So, what do you think of the Allosaurus? Have you ever heard of them or seen them in a museum? What is your favorite dinosaur? Share your thoughts here.