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  • Madeleine Perham

Did Dinosaurs Use Ketchup?

Madeleine, you know dinosaurs


You know how some dinosaurs ate plants but other dinosaurs ate other dinosaurs


Did they ever use ketchup?

As a young teacher/Guide leader, I mostly taught English, Maths and camping badges, but sometimes I was been asked something that drew on science, history, Avatar: The Last Airbender, alien theories, dog training theories, World Book Day fashion, or something else unusual. My go-to tactic was to write them down for later and find the answer during the week (generally this led down Wikipedia rabbit holes that became immensely useful during pub quizzes).

I recently found my teenage self's favourite questions from long-ago students (if any past parents read this, your kids always got their work done once they'd asked their mysterious query). On this blog I'm going to give those old questions proper answers - I'll also mention any cool writing stuff happening or other interesting things that make a good two-minute read.

(Brachiosaurus below - photo credit to Lars Hennings)

So, dinosaurs.

We’ll linger on the vegetarians (safest to do): say you’re a vegetarian dinosaur (maybe a Brachiosaurus from the Late Jurassic Period, or an Edmontonia from the Late Cretaceous age). Your choice of foodstuffs mostly depends on your height - a Brachiosaurus is often described as a huge giraffe with their heads hovering an airy twelve metres above the ground, so even the tallest leaves are on the menu.

Meanwhile the Edmontonia (about seven metres from snout to tail but fairly short height-wise) tends to nibble low-lying plants like ferns. Both dinosaurs would be purpose-built to eat a lot of greens - leaves, twigs, maybe a rock - and eat them fast; nutritional value was low and Brachiosauruses could spend pretty much the whole day eating just to get enough energy to do it all the next day.

(Edmontonia below - photo credit to Kabacchi)

Meanwhile, the classic carnivore dinosaur ate much like your average Labrador: corner the food (possibly as a group, if you happen to be a Velociraptor) and chomp it down fast before some unseen predator steals your snacks.

So was there a dinosaur version of ketchup?

Our main source on dinosaur diets is fossilised stomachs or well-preserved faeces. These remains are few and far between, but according to Karen Chin at the University of Colorado, we can find bellies full of pine needles, fruits or even wood. However, there’s very few surviving examples of dinosaur stomachs with more than one type of food in them, and none with tomatoes. In fairness, there’s only a few examples; according to Paul Barrett at the Natural History Museum, about five herbivore specimens exist – but it seems dinosaurs didn’t add any extra foods to flavour their chow.

Ultimately it seems like dinosaurs like their meals plain as the plains they strode on. You can have a majestic scaly tail and tiny arms, or ketchup, but never both.


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