This may be a bit of a whiny post, but I am wondering about the prevalence of dinosaurs as the archtypical fossils. I mean, many small boys who have no inclination to learning anything can still rattle off a string of dinosaur names. Or at least they could when I was one.
But why dinosaurs? They are not the only interesting fossilised things. Trilobites seem to be common, especially as tattoos, but beyond that there seems to be little variety. Why does no one talk about therapsids in the press? Why are pterosaurs and pre-dinosaurs like dimetrodon considered dinosaurs by many? Why are the many different non-dinosaur marine reptiles considered dinosaurs (mosasaurs, plesiosaurs, icthyosaurs &c)?
I suspect part of it is due to the majority of US fossils (that I have heard of at least, feel free to correct me) being dinosaurs. This, combined with movies such as the Jurassic Park franchise, have brought them to the fore when considering fossils, in the same way as the dodo is the archtypical extinct animal due to direct human causes. In addition, there are some amazing fossils coming out of the fine-grained Jurassic- and Cretaceous-aged limestones that other fossils just can not hold a candle to with regard to clarity and completeness, so they make good photos for the press. And they are easier to reconstruct.
Maybe the fact that they were around for 135Ma and were recent enough that many areas have at least some sediments from that time-span means that they are just quite common fossils. Maybe the dramatic end to the dinosaurs means that they are more interesting. (I mean, bolide impacts are more interesting than climate change, right? Right?) Maybe the early view of them all being giant, fearsome predators or enormous herbivores just caught peoples’ imagination. (Which would imply size does matter and my life orientation teacher was wrong after all….)
There is also the fact that many toys and similar entertainment featuring extinct animals are simply a smorgasbord of extinct things, with no consideration of whether the various creatures depicted actually existed at the same time. You can find T-rex, stegosaurus, woolly mammoths, sabre-toothed tigers and dimetrodons in the same box. Many books for children show a similar range of species being depicted. Older works of popular non-fiction are possibly also to blame. After all, science marches on, and the general public are not always able to keep up. These generally showed only the larger fossils known at the time. (See above about size mattering.)
There also only seem to be a few different dinosaurs that everyone knows: tyranosaurs, ceratopsians, sauropods, titanosaurs, stegosaurs. And, apparently only since Jurassic Park, velociraptors. There are many other cool dinosaurs, like Nqwebasaurus thwazi.
I do not really have the answers to these questions since I am just musing aloud here. To finish off on a positive note, here are a couple cool non-dinos that people may find interesting:
Therapsids: These are very commonly found in the Karoo Supergroup of South Africa. They were reptiles, but have a number of features in common with mammals. There are a number of therapsid genera, so I will not go into too much detail. One, Lystrosaurus, was very widespread throughout Gondwana: fossils have been found in India, South Africa, and Antarctica. This was an important link (along with various Glossopteris plant fossils) suggesting that these disparate locations were once joined.
Mosasaurs: These were large marine reptiles, contemporaneous with dinosaurs. They were well-adapted to the large shallow seas that dominated the late Jurassic and Cretaceous, becoming the dominant marine predators towards the end of the Cretaceous.
So yes, there are many more fossilised, cool things than dinosaurs. Why not give them some press and interest? (Since I am asking direct questions, comments are enabled for this post.)