Biology Index
By Richard Bruce BA, MA, and PhC in Economics

How To Escape Predatory Dinosaurs

Jurassic World the sequel franchise to the Jurassic Park franchise is showing in the theaters and will soon be out on video etc., so some readers may want to know how to survive an encounter with predatory dinosaurs, just in case some combination of mad scientists, greedy businessmen, and/or blood thirsty militarists decides to bring the non-avian dinosaurs back to life.

Science note, avian dinosaurs are birds, non-avian dinosaurs are what regular, reasonable people call dinosaurs. They went extinct when a comet or asteroid hit earth about 66 million years ago. I will call non-avian dinosaurs, simply dinosaurs for the rest of this webpage.

Of course, it would be far easier for scientists to bring back the woolly mammoth than the dinosaurs, so as long as you do not see any really hairy elephants you are very safe. Nevertheless, just in case, here is my advice, based on the experience of my friends and relatives, and the standard advice of the experts on how to avoid being eaten by today's predators.

Predatory Dinosaurs Like Today's Predators?

Predatory dinosaurs are terrestrial predators, this means they live on land. Current large terrestrial predators that occasionally eat people include bears, big cats: lions, tigers, leopards, and mountain lions. As dinosaurs were warm blooded terrestrial predators they might behave like these present warm blooded predators.

If so, encounters with dinosaurs might be much less dramatic than Jurassic Park-Jurassic World movies suggest. There are about a million warm blooded predators in the United States and Canada that are large enough when full grown to eat an adult human. There are also over a third of billion humans in the United States and Canada who frequently hike around in the wild with no protection against these predators. Yet only three to four people per year are eaten in the average year.


Coyotes provide another example of the reluctance of predators to eat humans. About one out of thirty five people in the USA live in the Chicago area and it is estimated that there are about two thousand coyotes in the Chicago area alone. If we assume somewhat unrealistically that Chicago is average we can estimate the total number of urban coyotes. We can multiply the two thousand coyotes in the Chicago area by 35 to get an estimated 70,000 urban coyotes in the USA. I do not know how many urban coyotes there are in the USA but suffice to say there are a lot.

Coyotes are too small to eat adults, but not little children and surely these coyotes have many opportunities to attack and kill little children, but only one child has died this way in the last several decades. Lots of dogs and cats, probably millions, but only one child.

So if dinosaurs acted like our present predators close encounters between dinosaurs and humans might be much less bloody than the movies.

Given, as I said above, there are about a million mammalian predators in the United States and Canada that when full grown can kill an adult human and millions of coyotes, tens of thousands of which live in cities, that could kill our little children it might be useful to understand how to avoid be eaten by them while we wait for the unlikely event of a dinosaur attack.

Close Encounters

One of my relatives had a very close encounter with a predator recently. My relative was cooking in Yosemite Park. A black bear brushed up against my relative as it passed on its way to raid the group's supplies. It ignored my relatives cooking, sort of insulting, and went for the toothpaste.

Apparently bears are concerned with dental hygiene. Which I guess is understandable given that they do not have dental insurance and it would be difficult to collect enough berries and insect grubs to pay a dentist. Perhaps Smokey the Bear has a new slogan, "Only you can prevent tooth decay." So if they actually do create a real world Jurassic Park you should bring toothpaste just to be safe. A close friend of mine who frequently goes camping and has friends that do also confirms that the bears love toothpaste.

My close friend also confirms that the bears are getting cozy. One of her best friends, whom I also know, was having breakfast while camping with her family. A bear invited itself to their breakfast and in the process brushed up against her. She was so flustered she spilled coffee on the bear. The bear took it well. There was no lawsuit, surprising for California, and the bear did not even growl. The bear was mellow, it ate breakfast and left.

As mentioned above bears love toothpaste, but they are also fond of paintballs used in paintball wars. There is a Canadian resort called Whistler that has lots of bears and paintball wars. The paintballs are made so that the wildlife like to eat them. That is the clean up plan. When the horn sounds to start the paintball war the bears consider it a dinner bell. Children shoot each other with paintballs, bears eat paintballs but not the children. Apparently the Russian cartoon "Masha and the Bear" is more realistic than Jurassic Park/World.

Don't Run

Whistler is in British Columbia, I knew a high school teacher who had a boy friend who was homesteading in the wilds of British Columbia. She spent some time with him on his farm and they had an encounter with a bear, I believe a grizzly. The bear stuck his head up over a pile of logs. The teacher was tempted to run, which is what you are not supposed to do, but the boyfriend said get out of here you dirty old bear and the bear ran off. So you might want to say the same to a dinosaur, but do not run.

Do not run is perhaps the most common advice for dealing with predators, and no doubt good advice based on a lot of experience. But while the advice is good, the reasoning that is given to justify it makes little sense.

It is argued that running activates the hunting instinct of the predator. I suspect that hunting instinct of a predator is activated by hunger and is usually active. Our objective is to activate the don't eat anything that you do not know is safe to eat instinct. If the predator is going to survive long enough to reproduce this has to be a powerful instinct and this is what keeps us safe.

If an animal does not run it is usually dangerous to eat, for example, rattlesnakes, cobras, and other venomous snakes. In the wild standing your ground is a sign that you are not safe to eat. As the bear has never eaten a human before, we would have killed it if it had, bears very rarely will want to risk eating a human who stands their ground.

Give Predators Space

Quite recently some friends of mine were up at Mount Shasta camping with their little boys. Bears were frequently coming into the camp and raiding the garbage cans. One of my friends was washing dishes, when she finished she tried to walk behind a bear that was dining a la garbage can. The bear turned around and growled at her. She was only three or four feet away from the bear, but it did not attack.

The bear may have seen the situation as similar to what we have seen on nature documentaries. Predators growl and threaten one another as the try to control the carcass of an animal one of them killed. The bear may have been saying, this is my garbage can, get your own. I am speculating on this, but it seems safe to say that, while you do not want to run away it is best to give bears and no doubt predatory dinosaurs their space. Three or four feet is too close.

Nevertheless, in our national parks campers and bears seem to coexist in surprising proximity, as the experiences of my relative and friends illustrate. This seems to be a growing trend, but if we go back far enough there was an even cozier relationship. People used to feed black bears by hand, with nothing between them and the bears. This resulted in occasional mauling, and was suppressed because it was dangerous for the campers. But most of time the humans were not mauled because the feeding persisted for quite some time.

In spite of this, I do not recommend feeding large predators by hand with no protection. Black bears are not teddy bears, and predatory dinosaurs were not Barney the dinosaur.

Don't Do Anything Dangerous to Escape

Still, these cozy bear encounters illustrate the problem with another friends reaction to a bear. A bear charged him and he jumped off a cliff into the water at the bottom of the cliff. He was hoping that the water was deep enough. It was or he would not have been able to tell me the story. He jumped because he figured he was dead if he didn't jump, so it was worth the risk.

Actually bears frequently charge, but rarely actually attack. After all, only three or four people are killed by large mammal predators in the United States and Canada in the typical year. So jumping off a cliff into water of unknown depth is not a good bet. When you face a predatory dinosaur do not assume that an attack is certain. Do not do anything very dangerous to escape.

Out in the Woods, Under the Sea

Now you might be thinking that sure our nice mammal predators are surprisingly reluctant to eat people but dinosaurs were not mammals. I would note that when we are swimming in the sea the predators like sharks are surprisingly reluctant to eat humans. So given that we safely hike in the wilderness and swim in the ocean there is a decent chance that predatory dinosaurs would avoid eating us.

Environment and Experience

Of course, it might be a matter of the dinosaur's background, experience, and environment. In the unlikely event someone invents a time machine and you go back to the Jurassic or Cretaceous the predators will be used to eating herbivorous dinosaurs. As they have never seen a human and therefore never eaten humans. They will probably wonder if you are safe to eat. Mom never brought one of those home, maybe they are poisonous or venomous.

If the predator had grown up in Jurassic Park or Jurassic World and mostly ate sheep, goats, and cattle, it might be very familiar with humans but it would never have eaten them. So from the predator's point of view humans are around all the time and the humans are not particularly afraid of them, so humans are probably not safe to eat. As argued above, if an animal does not run away it usually has some way to defend itself.

Easy to Catch, Deadly to Eat

This could be a real issue for today's predators. Pretty much all amphibians are poisonous to eat. We eat frogs' legs because that is not the poisonous part. Amphibians are common and fairly easy to catch so the first thing the predator eats might well be poisonous. Beyond amphibians there are venomous snakes, spiders, scorpions, bees, wasps, ants, and other venomous or poisonous creatures.

But even animals that are not toxic can be dangerous to eat. There are porcupines that have quills that can work their way into a predator and kill it. Even skunks could be dangerous. The stench they leave on a predator could warn potential prey and make it difficult for the predator to hunt. By the time the stench wears off the predator might die of starvation.

So there are a lot of animals that might look like defenseless prey, but that are quite dangerous to large predatory mammals. Eating anything that moves would almost always kill the predator long before it was able to reproduce. As surviving and reproducing is what evolution is all about large predators on land have evolved to be selective and careful.

The same can be said for animals in the ocean, it is estimated that ten percent of all species of fish in the ocean are poisonous, it is probably higher than ten percent for the invertebrates. So on both land and sea the predators need to avoid eating prey they are not familiar with. If a predatory fish, whale, or seal sees something that it is unfamiliar with and furthermore it looks weird and swims slowly it is probably toxic or otherwise dangerous to eat. Lucky for us, we fit that description perfectly.

The Exception Proves the Rule

A couple of exceptions to this might be polar bears and barren ground grizzly bears that live north of the tree line. These animals live in the far north where almost none of these venomous, poisonous, and otherwise dangerous animals live. Porcupines are an exception, they live very far north. Because the policy of hunting everything that moves, or everything that moves and is not a porcupine works better in their environment they maybe more inclined to hunt humans. Polar bears and barren ground grizzlies both have much more vicious reputations than regular bears, which is exactly what we should expect.

Don't Trust the Crocs

An even more important exception to the general rule that predators do not attack are the crocodiles, alligators, and other crocodilians, particularly the saltwater and Nile crocodiles. In the Cretaceous and Jurassic, the age of dinosaurs, there were crocodilians, some much bigger than ours, so it would be wise to be careful near rivers and lakes and avoid anything that looks like a crocodilian.

Heart Attacks Kill More Than Bears

Given that many people today die of heart attacks brought on by an excessively sedentary life style it would be foolish to give up necessary exercise to protect yourself from an attack by a predatory dinosaur. Given how rare attacks by bears and mountain lions are it is usually foolish to sacrifice that hike in the park because of a fear of today's mammalian predators.

So a key safety tip, perhaps the most important safety tip is do not do anything dangerous or avoid anything healthy because of a completely unrealistic fear of predatory dinosaurs, or a largely unrealistic fear of today's large predators. Large mammal predators only eat on average one out of every hundred million Americans and Canadians in an average year.

Make Noise

Another common bit of advice is make noise. It has been recommended that humans wear bells in bear country so we will not surprise the bears and cause the startled bear to charge. Skeptics have made jokes about this idea. How do you tell a good bear from a bad bear? Answer, bad bears have bells in their poop. And the bears might regard the bells you are wearing as a dinner bell.

The people who wish to introduce bears, particularly grizzlies complain about these jokes, claiming they are not funny. Actually, they are funny, but humor is not necessarily a good guide to safety.

A better response might be to compare human bells with a rattlesnake's rattle. By making noise including wearing bells we are warning the bear that we are dangerous, just as a rattlesnake warns potential predators to eat something else. By making noise you make your presence obvious, which is something that defenseless prey would avoid. The noise warns the bear that you are dangerous to eat, which you are because humans will usually kill the offending bear and any other bear or potential predator in the area.

It has been suggested that perhaps instead of bells we should carry rattles that sound like rattlesnake rattles. Perhaps. This would be an interesting experiment for the experts and then possibly an interesting business opportunity for some businessman. If it worked on the bears and mountain lions it would have the advantage that people could easily understand why it worked and would be more likely to use it.

Look Weird

Another common bit of advice is look big. It has been suggested that people carry umbrellas and open them to look bigger. Once again, I have no quarrel with the advice, but question the reasoning.

As a teen I went to a camp, which had a farm next to it. We were chatting with the farmer's wife and she said that in one of the last few nights a mountain lion had attacked their horse. They came out and scared the cat off. It occurs to me that even with an umbrella I would not look as large as a horse.

On the other hand the umbrella would look weird to the predator, sort of like a puffer fish blowing its self up. It is generally argued that puffer fish blow themselves up so they will be too big for the predator to eat. I figured that the real reason that puffer fish puff up was to warn predators that they are very poisonous to eat. I later saw a video that started with the standard explanation about being too big, but they added my explanation, the poison warning.

Opening that umbrella while you stand your ground may make you look weird and weird things that stand their ground are often poisonous, venomous, or otherwise dangerous to eat, like puffer fish, or cobras spreading their hood.

Bright Colors

Similarly it has been argued that bright colors might protect against predator attacks. My suggestion would be that some animals, for example, poison dart frogs use bright colors to warn that they are poison. So if humans wear bright colors this might signal the predator that it is dangerous to eat humans, which it is, because the other humans will kill the bear, cat, or other predator if they eat you.

Why Its Counter Intuitive

A lot of the advice on avoiding animal attacks, maybe most of it, is pretty counter intuitive. Animals that are safe for the predator to eat run, hide, or try not to be noticed. Animals that are not safe to eat, because they are poisonous, venomous, or otherwise dangerous to eat often do the opposite. This is a warning to the predator that they are not safe to eat. We are not safe to eat because we are organized into societies that quickly kill predators who kill us.

As our strategy of warning predators from bears to sharks seems to work well there is a fair chance that it would work with dinosaurs too. In our movies we are using dinosaurs not because they would be more dangerous but because we know that today's predators are pretty tame so to create exciting fantasy we have to use yesterday's, or perhaps I should say yesterera's predators, to keep up the excitment.

Here are some other biology pages. In many of these pages I use the same principles I have used concerning whales. For example, I use similar reasoning to explain why quetzalcoatlus, the giant pterosaur from the late cretaceous was the last of the pterosaurs.
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