It came without warning, fast and furious — a bright light racing across the sky. When it hit, it hit so hard that it changed the face of Earth. Many scientists believe that some 65 million years ago a giant asteroid or comet about 6 miles (10 kilometers) across slammed off what is today the coast of Mexico. Along with all the tidal waves, fires, earthquakes and other assorted disasters it would have generated, the blast would have thrown up dense clouds of dust and rock that darkened the sky, eventually chilling the planet almost to its core and killing 70 percent of all living species.
The collision also marked the end of the Cretaceous Period. Beginning about 145 million years ago, this period represented the final chapter in the age of the dinosaurs. It was the time of gigantic sauropods plowing through forests, and pterosaurs and huge, feathered birds darkening the skies. Tyrannosaurs also bounded across the planet, as did triceratops and stegosauruses. However, as the supercontinent Pangea shredded, new coastlines emerged, temperatures spiked, then cooled, and ocean currents changed. As a result, new habitats for new animals appeared. Flowering plants took root, and forests of conifers emerged.
As this change began occurring, dinosaurs started sharing the world with more diverse species. In fact, many animals that aren’t dinosaurs thrived during the Cretaceous Period. Some are still with us, although they’ve gone through millions of years of evolutionary changes. Others are long gone. Some may shock you. Others will make your skin crawl. Here are 10 of them.
Scratch, scratch, scratch! You’ll find them in hats, on coats and sometimes, ugh, in your hair. Lice! They’re itchy! They’re disgusting! They’re ugly! Yet, when the end came for the dinosaurs, the tiny louse survived.Perhaps it’s because these itchy creatures were too small to die or because there were too many of them.
No matter. Originally, bird lice probably made their home on the downy feathers of avian-dinosaurs, the prehistoric monsters that evolved into modern birds. The parasites may have chowed down on dinosaurs such as the Shuvuuia, a genus of birdlike, meat-eating theropods that lived between 85 and 75 million years ago [source: Balter].
A few years ago, scientists discovered two lice fossilized in stone. One was 44 million years old; the other about 100 million years. After careful study, researchers concluded these lousy bloodsuckers not only survived the near destruction of Earth 65 million years ago, but also flourished afterward [sources: Choi, Switek].
The next time you hear the crinkling of a potato chip bag in the middle of the night and see an army of cockroaches scurry off the kitchen counter, consider this before you reach for the roach spray: Cockroaches have been around forever, or at least longer than dinosaurs. In fact, more than a decade ago, a geology student at Ohio State University found the largest-ever fossil of a complete cockroach. It was 3.5 inches (9 centimeters) long and 300 million years old. Scientists could see the veins in its wings, along with its legs and antennae [sources: CBC News, Ohio State University].
Cockroaches were around long before the Cretaceous Period began and survived long after it ended (as we’re all too aware). During the Cretaceous Period, the insects feasted on dino poop, or so some scientists think. Researchers at the Slovak Academy of Sciences accidently made the discovery as they researched the diet of the ancient bugs. Using a sophisticated imaging method called synchrotron X-ray microtomography, researchers built a 3-D version of a fossilized cockroach that they found encased in amber. The bug was about 120 million years old, which puts it in the Lower Cretaceous Period. As they examined the roach’s gut, they found bits of wood that they believe came from dinosaur excrement [source: Lewis].
8 Devil Frogs
At 16 inches (41 centimeters) long, it was perhaps the largest, not to mention, most obese frog to ever have hopped across a Cretaceous lily pad. When scientists found the remains of this fossilized frog in Madagascar, they were agog at its size. Known as the Beelzebufo ampinga, or “devil frog,” it was 3.5 inches (8.9 centimeters) taller than the largest living frog ever found. It lived between 65 and 70 million years ago, right in the thick of the Cretaceous. The devil frog had an overly large mouth and stomach. It was so huge that it probably didn’t do a lot of hunting on its own, but rather waited until its prey passed by. What did it eat? Smaller frogs, lizards and mice, and perhaps, just perhaps, baby dinosaurs [sources: Moskowitz, National Geographic].