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10 Toothy Facts About Iguanodon

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Perhaps more than any other dinosaur, Iguanodon reveals how dramatically our perception of these amazing creatures has evolved—while reminding us how much we’ve yet to learn.  

1. It’s Got One of the World’s Oldest Dinosaur Names.

Our story begins with an eccentric English doctor. The year was 1825. Sussex’s Gideon Mantell had recently obtained a fossilized tooth, one which looked rather strange. Convinced that his specimen belonged to some huge, plant-eating reptile, the physician named it “Iguanodon,” meaning “iguana tooth.” Seventeen years later, anatomist Richard Owen coined the word “Dinosaur”—or “fearfully great reptile”—to classify a trio of newly-unearthed prehistoric creatures: Hylaeosaurus, Megalosaurus, and Mantell’s Iguanodon.

2. The Original Iguanodon Specimen May Have Actually Belonged to Another Dino.

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Today, the Iguanodon genus only contains a single species: Europe’s handsome Iguanodon bernissartensis (pictured above). Nice and simple, right? Well, way back in the 20th century, over a dozen vastly different-looking dinos—spread out across four continents—were lumped together as members of the Iguanodon genus. From a classification standpoint, this was hardly helpful, so scientists started divvying them up during the early 2000s. 

Brand new titles such as Mantellisaurus and Dollodon were given to former Iguanodon species. After the dust eventually settled, none but I. bernissartensis remained unaltered [PDF]. Thickening this plot still further, Mantell’s tooth—the fossil that started it all—might also deserve to be placed in a separate genus.

3.  Iguanodon’s Famous “Thumb Spikes” Were Originally Mistaken for Nasal Horns.

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At first, this long-extinct beast was only known from assorted bits and pieces. Iguanodonsnouts, therefore, seemed like as good a place as any for paleontologists to put their conical spikes. When more complete remains started turning up in the 1870s, it was realized that they actually belonged on the sides of their hands.

4. By the Way, Scientists Still Aren’t Entirely Sure What Those Spikes Were Used For.


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Iguanodon is often drawn using its thumbs as powerful weapons, heroically jabbing these clawed digits into careless carnivores. But they could have also been employed to tackle less-dramatic errands like breaking open nuts or stripping tree bark. After all, though feeding may lack the glamour of combat, both tasks can force evolution to get inventive.

5. In 1878, a Belgian Mine Yielded Oodles of Game-Changing Iguanodon Skeletons.

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That year, two miners unwittingly stumbled on a prehistoric treasure trove over 1000 feet beneath Bernissart, Belgium. Among the fossils their site yielded were 14 beautifully-preserved Iguanodon skeletons, which finally helped paleontologists understand what this majestic animal looked like.

6. Iguanodon Apparently Preferred Four Legs to Two.

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With such robust torsos and long, powerful arms, chances are adult Iguanodon bernissartensis didn’t spend too much time walking about on their hind limbs; instead, using all fours served as the standard method of transportation. Nevertheless, when life called for a brief two-legged stroll, these animals could have doubtlessly risen to the occasion.

7. Iguanodon Has Had a Sizable Literary Impact.

The Lost World, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1912 epic adventure story, involves herds of Iguanodon roaming the South American wilderness. One comically-oversized specimen trudges through Paris in Nicolas Flammarion’s The World Before Man (1886). And then there’s Raptor Red (1995)—written by maverick paleontologist Robert Bakker—which features a botched Utahraptor attack triggering an Iguanodon stampede.

8. There’s A Still-Orbiting Asteroid Called 9941 Iguanodon.

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On February 4, 1989, a new asteroid was found inside the rocky belt between Mars and Jupiter. In a move that might sound like naming an iceberg after the Titanic (at least, if some popular extinction hypotheses turn out to be correct), NASA subsequently gave it this dinosaurian title.

9. It’s On an English Coat of Arms.

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In 1834, Mantell received some congregated Iguanodon bones that turned up near the town of Maidstone, which has since honored its paleontological heritage by adding the dino to its official coat of arms.

10. A Super-Cool New Year’s Eve Party Was Once Thrown Inside an Iguanodon Sculpture.

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As 1854 approached, London’s Crystal Palace saw what was arguably history’s strangest New Year’s Eve celebration. Sculptor Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins had been commissioned to build a menagerie of full-sized prehistoric creature statues which still captivate visitors today.

Hoping to promote this Victorian Jurassic Park, Hawkins hosted a dinner party in the belly of a partially-completed Iguanodon. On the guest list were 20 great academic figures, including the aforementioned Owen. Ham was served, wine was imbibed, and soon, a cheerful chant rang out: “The Jolly Old Beast is Not Deceased, There’s Life in Him Again!”

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Feathers, Fighting, and Feet: A Brief History of Dinosaur Art
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One of the first-known works of dinosaur art was The country of the Iguanodon, an 1837 watercolor by John Martin. It depicts the ancient reptiles as giant iguanas, thrashing and fighting near a stone quarry—a far cry from today's sophisticated 3D renderings.

By watching the PBS Eons video below, you can learn how our image of dinosaurs has changed over the centuries, thanks to artworks based on new scientific discoveries and fossil findings. Find out why artists decided to give the prehistoric creatures either feathers or scales, make them either active or sluggish, present them as walking on two or four feet, and to imagine tails that either dragged or lifted, among other features.

Keep in mind, however, that both emerging technologies and new findings are constantly changing the way scientists view dinosaurs. A new species, on average, is named every two weeks—and this research will likely keep artists busy (and constantly revising their work) for years to come.

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Epic Poster Features Over 100 Hand-Drawn Illustrations of Dinosaurs
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Pop Chart Lab

Paleontologists are constantly discovering new dinosaurs (or questioning whether beloved species ever existed in the first place), so it's hard to keep track of every dino that ever existed. But if you want an up-to-date catalogue of the most significant beasts from the Triassic to the Cretaceous periods, this taxonomy poster from Pop Chart Lab is tough to beat.

Titled Dinosauria, the chart organizes more than 700 genera of dinosaurs into one easy-to-read infographic. All of the standard favorites are represented, like Triceratops and T. Rex, as well as some more obscure or newly discovered prehistoric reptiles like Conchoraptor and Psittacosaurus. Pop Chart Lab pulled its data from the most current classification systems, even including research published just this year that unifies ornithischians with theropods.


The 100 hand-drawn illustrations and accompanying taxonomic timeline took over 500 hours of research to design. Hanging it on your wall at home requires a lot less effort: You can order a 24-inch-by-36-inch print for $37 from Pop Chart Lab’s online store.

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