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10 Crested Facts About Dilophosaurus

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Let's take a closer look at Dilophosaurus, an off-kilter dino that Jurassic Park turned into a Mesozoic celebrity.

1. Sorry, Spielberg: Dilophosaurus Probably Wasn’t Poisonous...

Both the first Jurassic Park film and the Michael Crichton novel upon which it’s based feature toxin-spewing Dilophosaurus. However, at over 20 feet long, the real animal was an unusually-large predator for its time. As such, it would’ve likely been plenty scary without producing poisons, and there’s currently no strong evidence that can support this spurt of artistic license.

2. …And, it Also Lacked a Flashy Neck Frill.

The liberties keep on coming! One of these critters pounces on the film’s human villain after sprouting some bizarre, vibrating fins. Modern frilled lizards (Chlamydosaurus kingii) make themselves look bigger with similar structures, but, again, Dilophosaurus undoubtedly lacked them. Still, fans can at least credit Universal Pictures with getting the dinosaur’s bony head crests (mostly) right.

3. Dilophosaurus Was Discovered by a Native American.

In 1942, Navajo Jesse Williams led fossil-hunters Bill Rush, Ed Kott, and Sam Welles to the site where he’d happened upon the first known Dilophosaurus remains two years earlier.

4. Tantalizingly Dilophosaurus-Like Tracks Have Been Found in New England.

Dilophosaurus Footprint in Red Fleet Dinosaur Tracks Park, Utah, via

Although Dilophosaurus bones hail exclusively from the American southwest, a series of footprints belonging to a very similar dino were spotted in some Massachusetts and Connecticut rock of roughly the same geologic age during the 1840s. Since one can’t know for sure whether Dilophosaurus laid them or not, these tracks were given the scientific name Eubrontes giganteus by naturalist Edward Hitchcock (they’ve since been honored as Connecticut’s official state fossil).

5. Dilophosaurus Used to Be Called “Megalosaurus wetherilli.”

Picture a classification-based island of misfit toys. For many years, wildly-different meat-eating dinosaurs found themselves erroneously lumped together under the name “Megalosaurus.”

In 1824, England’s Megalosaurus bucklandii became the first dinosaur to be scientifically named, and, at first, Dilophosaurus wetherilli was misinterpreted as a new species of this genus. The latter animal, which actually bore very little resemblance to that British beastie, was given its own, brand-new genus in 1970.

6. Its Teeth Were Unevenly-Anchored.

Much ado has been made about Dilophosaurus’ dentition. Towards the back of its upper jaw, several teeth are weakly-rooted, but those closer to the front appear significantly firmer. As a whole, many scientists claim, Dilophosaurus chompers weren’t strong enough for taking down larger prey despite the carnivore’s size.

7. Dilophosaurus Apparently Sat Like a Bird.

Andrew Borgen, Flickr

Skeletons are great, but, in a way, dinosaur footprints give us something even more incredible: fossilized behavior. Dilophosaurus has been tentatively credited with leaving an exceptional set of tracks in present-day Utah. Clearly made by an animal at rest, these prints include both fore- and hindlimb impressions. While squatting down for a breather, their maker’s palms—in classical bird-like fashion—faced each other via an upright, “clapping” position.  

8. It Might Have Been a Fish-Eater.

Needle-like, puncturing teeth may have helped Dilophosaurus snag wriggly, prehistoric fish. In this scenario, its high-set nostrils would have poked above the water’s surface should the creature ever decide to do a heron impression.

9. Some Alleged Dilophosaurus Feather Imprints Were Likely Misidentified.

Can we add Dilophosaurus to the rapidly-growing list of feathered dinosaurs? Not yet. Footprints left by one individual included what appeared to be feathery impressions pressed into the surrounding mud. Unfortunately, many now hold that these markings were more likely a series of frayed grooves created by the dinosaur shifting its weight around in the soft sediment. What a letdown…

10. Dilophosaurus is One of the Few Jurassic Dinosaurs in the Original Jurassic Park.

Seven dinos appear in this 1993 sci-fi epic—and among these, only the long-necked Brachiosaurus and the slender Dilophosaurus actually lived during earth’s Jurassic period (201.3 – 145 million years ago). Tyrannosaurus, Triceratops, Velociraptor, Gallimimus, and Parasaurolophus all evolved amidst the subsequent Cretaceous period (though, granted, “Cretaceous Park” isn’t exactly the coolest title. You win this round, Hollywood!). 

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What 6 Dinosaurs from Jurassic Park Really Looked Like
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Universal Pictures

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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YouTube

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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