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10 Spiky Facts About Stegosaurus

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Poor Stegosaurus. Thanks its relative brain size, the Jurassic herbivore—while popular—has been slapped with prehistoric punchlines for over a century. Today, we’re saluting one of earth’s most misunderstood dinosaurs.

1. Stegosaurus’ Name is a Giant Anachronism.

Meaning “roof lizard,” it references the outdated idea that Stegosaurus’ characteristic back plates were arranged horizontally like enormous shingles. We now know these weird-looking bones stood upright, though what they were actually used for remains an open question.

2. No, Stegosaurus Didn’t Have a Second Brain Above its Butt. That Myth Needs to Go Extinct.

To be fair, the spinal columns of certain dinos—such as Stegosaurus—do have sizable cavities around their fannies. During the late 1800s, some briefly speculated that a ‘posterior braincase’ was housed there; after all, since Stegosaurus’ cranium wasn’t exactly plus-sized, backup grey matter seemed like a helpful feature.

Amusing as that notion is, there isn’t a shred of decent evidence to support it (for instance, no modern animals have one). Sadly, however, this two-brained dinosaur rumor persists.

3. Stegosaurus Did, However, Boast Pebbly Throat Armor.

Nobu Tamura

Circular lumps arranged on the neck’s underside would’ve assisted Stegosaurus in shielding its jugular from hungry predators.

4. It’s Also the State Fossil of Colorado.

Despite this, the Colorado Rockies’ current mascot is a purple Triceratops named "Dinger." At least with Stegosaurus, they could’ve thrown in some cheesy home "plate" puns. What a missed opportunity…

5. An Unlucky Allosaurus (Probably) Met the Business End of One.

Wikimedia Commons

Wanna hear something scary? A noticeable percentage of known Stegosaurus tail spikes have broken and re-healed tips, indicating that, in life, their owners put them to good use. Furthermore, one famous Allosaurus vertebrae includes an unusual hole which was apparently made when the carnivore tangled with a feisty Stegosaurus and its well-armed hind end.

6. Stegosaurus Would’ve Had an Interesting Gait.

Because its front legs were significantly shorter than the rear ones, Stegosaurus was hardly speedy or agile. Realizing this, the animators of 1999’s Walking with Dinosaurs series gave the creature a frontal swagger to accommodate this difference in limb length.

7. It Wasn’t Much of a Biter.

Wikimedia Commons

In 2010, using skull dimensions and tooth analyses, paleontologist Miriam Reichel found that Stegosaurus’ chompers didn’t exert much force, though being able to snip through “smaller branches” was still on their resume. 

8. In 1920, Stegosaurus was Reimagined as a Dinosaurian Hang-Glider.

Beneath one of the freakiest dinosaur drawings ever conceived, journalist W.H. Ballou wrote that—by "flapping" its plates—Stegosaurus could “[coast] through the air like some gigantic gliding machine” in an article submitted to the Standard-Examiner of Ogden, Utah.

9. Stegosaurus May Have Inhabited Portugal.

Although it was first found in the U.S. (and is usually seen as a quintessentially American dino), fragmentary remains unearthed across the pond strongly imply that Stegosaurus also roamed Portuguese terrain 150 million years ago.

10. It Has an Odd Connection to Gary Larson’s The Far Side.

In one of The Far Side’s classic 1982 strips, a Neanderthal is seen pointing to a Stegosaurus tail, remarking “Now this end we call the thagomizer… after the late Thag Simmonds.” Since then, many paleontologists have been using the term "thagomizer" to denote real-life stegosaur tails.

“I think there should be cartoon confessionals,” Larson himself later opined, “where we could go and say things like, ‘Father, I have sinned—I have drawn dinosaurs and hominids together in the same cartoon.’”

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What 6 Dinosaurs from Jurassic Park Really Looked Like
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by Alex Carter

In the 24 years that have passed since the original Jurassic Park hit theaters, what we know about dinosaurs has changed—a lot. Here's some of the new research that may change how you imagine these ancient animals, along with illustrations of what the animals may have looked like when they actually roamed the Earth.

1. VELOCIRAPTOR

Movie:

Velociraptors in Jurassic Park.
Universal Pictures

Reality:

A drawing of a Velociraptor.
Matt Martyniuk, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY SA-3.0

A far cry from the large and vicious hunters of the Jurassic Park movies, velociraptors were in fact small and covered in feathers. More like vicious turkeys, if you will. The dinosaur in the movies was based on the Deinonychus, a much larger species whose name, appropriately, means “terrible claw.” (Even Deinonychus wasn't quite as big as the raptors portrayed in the movie.) That said, other large raptors have since been discovered, including the entire genus Utahraptor. (Its discoverers originally considered naming the type species Utahraptor spielbergi in hopes that the director would finance their research, but the name-for-funds deal never went through, so it was ultimately called Utahraptor ostrommaysorum.)

2. TYRANNOSAURUS REX

Movie:

A T. Rex in Jurassic Park.
Universal Pictures

Reality:

A feathered version of a T. Rex.
A feathered version of a T. Rex.

Large. Imposing. Fluffy? Apparently, the T. rex looked much, much stranger than the beast brought to life on the silver screen. Its face might have been covered with patches of armored skin and large scales, its eyes were placed much farther forward than other dinosaurs, and it carried itself rather horizontally, not upright, as most people still imagine it. It's thought from discoveries in close relatives that T. rex was covered in some feathers for a part of its life (especially as a juvenile, as seen in The Lost World), although the details remain hotly debated. Also debated are what it used its arms for: Hypotheses have ranged from a role in reproduction to lifting itself up (which is increasingly considered unlikely) to nothing at all.

3. COMPSOGNATHUS

Movie:

A Compsognathus in Jurassic Park.
Universal Pictures

Reality:

A feathered version of a Compsognathus.
A feathered version of a Compsognathus.

This dinosaur was actually bigger in real life, although not by much. The smaller version depicted in the movies was based on what is now believed to be a young (and therefore small) Compsognathus. While many dinosaurs of its type were covered in feathers, there has been a notable lack of evidence about whether compies, as they're known, had feathers or scales. Most artists tend to draw simple proto-feathers, though; the result is an animal that looks more furry than feathery—and remarkably like a stretched rat.

4. TRICERATOPS

Movie:

A Triceratops in Jurassic Park.
Universal Pictures

Reality:

These creatures are generally portrayed as leathery and pointy—a bit like a rhinoceros designed by committee. The reality is somewhat stranger: They actually resembled porcupines. Some paleontologists believe that several nipple-shaped protrusions in their skin suggest where bristles would have been. In other areas, their skin was likely scaled rather than leathery. Their horns are another mystery. A 2009 study indicated that they were used largely for combat with other Triceratops, but they probably had a role in courtship as well.

5. BRACHIOSAURUS

Movie:

A Brachiosaurus in Jurassic Park.
Universal Pictures

Reality:

A drawing of a Brachiosaurus.

In Jurassic Park, the Brachiosaurus is the first dinosaur seen after everyone arrives on the island, memorably rearing up to get at some particularly delicious leafage. But that behavior is now considered unlikely. The book Biology of the Sauropod Dinosaurs attempted to calculate if Brachiosaurs were able to rear on their hind legs and concluded, “Brachiosaurus would have expended considerably more energy [than a Diplodocus], could not have attained a stable upright pose, and would have risked serious injury to its forefeet when descending too rapidly.” Dr. Heinrich Mallison noted that it “was probably unlikely to use a bipedal … posture regularly and for an extended period of time. Although this dinosaur certainly could have reared up, for example during mating, this was probably a rare and short-lived event.”

6. SPINOSAURUS

Movie:

A Spinosaurus in Jurassic Park III.
Universal Pictures

Reality:

A drawing of a Spinosaurus.

Joschua Knüppe, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 4.0

The Spinosaurus was discovered only a few years after the Tyrannosaurus, but it never attracted fans in quite the same way. The fossils were destroyed in World War II during an Allied bombing raid on Munich, and the dinosaur became largely forgotten. However, Jurassic Park III resurrected the dinosaur's fame with a showdown that saw the Spinosaurus kill a Tyrannosaurus. Many fans cried foul, and the size of the Spinosaurus was indeed a mistake … in reality, it was much bigger.

It would have been up to three times heavier and 20 feet longer; a creature on the higher end of that range would have been bigger than even Jurassic World's (invented) I. rex. But could Spinosaurus have taken on a T. rex and lived? Almost certainly not. While physically bigger and armed with a bigger jaw, it was much less powerful, as most paleontologists now believe Spinosaurus used its long jaws for fishing. It actually lived mostly in the water.

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Meet Spinosaurus, the Giant Dinosaur That Was Scarier Than T. Rex
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Contrary to what the film Jurassic Park may have led you to believe, Tyrannosaurus rex wasn't the largest—or scariest—dinosaur to ever roam the land. That honor goes to Spinosaurus, a genus of predators whose members could grow up to 50 feet long. They roamed North Africa during the mid-Cretaceous Period, around 100 million years ago.

Learn more about Spinosaurus—and the era's other fearsome creatures, which included carnivorous crocodiles and enormous flying reptiles—by watching the TED-Ed video below.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

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