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10 Clawed Facts About Therizinosaurus

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If T. rex is the Citizen Kane of dinosaurs, Therizinosaurus and its kin are The Rocky Horror Picture Show: They’re strange-looking, slightly threatening, and command a dedicated fan base. Here’s some trivia guaranteed to impress your fossil-loving amigos.

1. Therizinosaurus Had the Longest Claws of Any Known Animal

The humongous claws on this dino’s hands were capable of reaching well over two feet in length. Appropriately, its name literally means “scythe lizard.”

2. Despite This, it Was (Probably) An Herbivore

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With fingers that seemingly belong in a slasher flick, you’d think these creatures were designed to slice and dice hapless victims. But most of its relatives had small, leaf-shaped teeth built to munch on foliage. (Scientists have yet to uncover a Therizinosaurus skull.) So what’s with those frightening digits? The theory is that, come mealtime, they might have helped the dinos pull down lush tree branches. For a cooler explanation, skip ahead to bullet point number nine.

3. Therizinosaurus Was Originally Mistaken for a Huge, Turtle-Like Reptile.

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In 1954, Russian paleontologist Evgeny Aleksandrovich Malayev concluded that the beast basically resembled a modern sea turtle. He wrote that its distinctive forelimbs were in fact “powerful swimming organs” with claws designed for “cutting aquatic vegetation.”

4. It’s Part of a Formerly-Baffling Family.

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When it became clear that these things were actually dinosaurs, scientists didn’t initially know how to classify the eccentric Therizinosaurids. Could they be related to the gigantic, long-necked sauropods like Jurassic Park’s Brachiosaurus? Or did they belong to the "bird-hipped" order of dinosaurs along with Stegosaurus and Triceratops?

Despite their plant-guzzling habits, closer examination revealed that therizinosaurs hailed from a group known as theropods, the vast majority of which (Tyrannosaurus, Velociraptor, etc.) were carnivores. Strange as this might sound, today’s pandas (which only occasionally eat meat) are similarly considered members of the mammalian "carnivora" order.

5. Some Therizinosaurs Were Covered in Feathers.

Danny Cicchetti

China’s Beipiaosaurus had multiple layers of primitive feathers, as seen in some beautifully-preserved fossils. Given its limb proportions, Beipiaosaurus definitely didn’t fly, so this plumage likely served to keep it warm and attract the opposite sex.

6. A Nest of Therizinosaur Eggs Was Found in 2013.

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After locating 17 clutches of dinosaur eggs in the Gobi Desert, Hokkaido University’s Yoshitsugu Kobayashi concluded that they’d been laid by indigenous therizinosaurs, a few bony remains of which had been unearthed nearby. If true, this would imply that the animals were somewhat social (at least, come nesting season).

7. Therizinosaurs Had Weird Feet.

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Ever the nonconformists, therizinosaur feet rested on four toes while standing and walking. Most theropods, meanwhile, only used three.

8. Therizinosaurus Was One Hefty Dino.

Scott Hartman

Let’s return to Therizinosaurus itself, shall we? The red areas in the above picture represent all of its presently-known skeletal material (the rest has yet to be found). Based on these partial remains, scientists have ascertained that the critter’s total length was somewhere in the ballpark of 10 meters (33 feet) while it could’ve weighed upwards of 5 tons. Not too shabby…

9. Therizinosaurus Had to Cope With a Huge T. rex Cousin.

Tarbosaurus bataar and Tyrannosaurus rex are so similar that they may have belonged to the same genus (though most experts disregard that idea). The former predator occupied Therizinosaurus’ Mongolian range roughly 70 million years ago, making this herbivore’s fearsome claws look all the more necessary. Here’s a cool (Greek language) clip from 2002’s Chased by Dinosaurs documentary in which these natural enemies spectacularly square off.

10. There’s a Life-Sized Therizinosaurus Statue in Poland.

Alina Zienowicz

Jurapark, located in the village of Bałtów, contains dozens of full-scale dinosaur models, including Allosaurus, Diplodocus, and the world-famous Iguanodon.

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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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