Did Dinosaurs Eat Grass?

One of the questions that can quite easily trip up a member of the teaching team when it comes to looking at the food chains and food webs that existed during the time of the dinosaurs.  A question that comes up a lot when our teaching experts are quizzed by other professionals preparing schemes of work aimed at the Key Stage 1 or 2 cohort is the question did dinosaurs eat grass?

Typically One of the Questions we Get Asked

One of the many questions asked by teachers.

One of the many questions asked by teachers.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Grasses are a highly successful group of  Angiosperms (flowering plants).  Grasses not only include grass found in fields and that grazed by cattle and other herbivores, but rice, wheat, oats, barley and maize are also members of the grass family (Poaceae) otherwise sometimes called the Gramineae.  Nearly three quarters of all commercial crops grown in the world are members of the grass family.  These plants are extremely important to our own species, but did dinosaurs feed on grass too?

It had been thought that the first flowering plants evolved early in the Cretaceous period, around 120 million years ago, but recent research has suggested that the first Angiosperms may have evolved much earlier, sometime in the Triassic possibly.

To read an article that provides more information: Saying it With Flowers 100 Million Years Earlier Than Expected

The true-grasses (Poaceae) were once thought to have evolved during the Cenozoic Era, with the first fossils of grasses dating to around 55-56 million years ago (Palaeogene Period).  This means that conventional thinking suggested that the dinosaurs had become extinct some ten million years or so before the first grasses evolved.  Over the last thirty million years, grass has come to dominate large parts of the world, especially as drier climates led to deforestation.

Recently, some fossil evidence has come to light that suggests that at least some types of grass were present during the Cretaceous Period, a time when dinosaurs roamed.  These grasses could well have been eaten by plant-eating dinosaurs.  Analysis of micro-fossils including pollen supports the theory that grasses probably evolved during the Age of Dinosaurs.

Lesson Plan Ideas

  • Get the children to look at pictures of dinosaurs in books, can they identify in general terms what sort of plants are in the pictures?
  • Where in the dinosaur books do flowering plants first appear? – Hint (Cretaceous Period)
  • Compare the landscape at the time of the dinosaurs with pictures of modern landscapes – what is similar?  What is different?
  • Can the children produce a timeline showing when different animals and plants evolved?
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