How has our understanding of the Jurassic Park dinosaurs progessed over time? To start, I will say do not consider in-universe explanations on why the animals look the way they do in the films because this is irrelevant. The point of this article is to explore what we have learned about dinosaurs since the Jurassic Park films landed in the ’90s. We can all enjoy the films for what they are despite the inaccuracies.
Many of you reading this already know that the prehistoric animals depicted in the Jurassic Park and Jurassic World films are not in-line with what current science tells us about these animals, however, most people are not. This article is designed to educate readers on what paleontologists have learned about the extinct animals presented in the Jurassic Park franchise.
I will start by making a bold claim: I think most people don’t even have any idea what a dinosaur is. They are often called “giant lizards.” Even in textbooks are referred to as “giant extinct reptiles.” This leads people to incorrectly assume all dinosaurs are extinct and that they are somehow related to lizards. Further, it leads to the misconception that other groups of animals that actually are “giant extinct reptiles,” such as Mosasaurus, are dinosaurs.
I’ve heard just about everything called a dinosaur, from pterosaurs, which are closely related, to sharks, which are about as far as you can possibly get from being a dinosaur while still being a vertebrate. So let’s clarify what it means to be a dinosaur.
What is a Dinosaur?
Most paleontologists I know use a definition of Dinosauria as “any animal descended from the last common ancestor of Megalosaurus and Iguanodon.” Some other definitions persist in the literature, the most common one being “the last common ancestor of Triceratops and Passer (the sparrow),” but many prominent paleontologists have argued that the Megalosaurus + Iguanodon definition is better as the term Dinosauria was originally defined based on these two animals.
This means neither the pterosaurs nor the mosasaur from Jurassic World are dinosaurs. This also means that birds, all birds, are dinosaurs. They did not “evolve from” dinosaurs, they are dinosaurs. Refer to the following image: (Iguanodon, Megalosaurus, and Archaeopteryx by Scott Hartman via skeletaldrawing.com)
Before we dive into the individual species of the Jurassic World movies, first we must cover some common mistakes in dinosaur anatomy and appearance. These are problems that affect nearly all the animals depicted in the films, so we will get them out of the way here so we can avoid addressing them in every animal’s profile.
If you ask any average person to do an impression of a dinosaur, typically the first thing they will do will hold their hands in a position with the palms facing backward, maybe hunch over slightly, and start roaring or screeching with reckless abandon. Ironically, this has become the basic idea of what a dinosaur is because almost no dinosaur was capable of holding its hands in this position, and there isn’t really good evidence that extinct dinosaurs were capable of mammal-like sound production either.
The paleontology community has come to jokingly refer to the palms-down or pronated hand position as “bunny hands” or “zombie hands” for obvious reasons. Mammals have especially flexible arm bones that are capable of twisting around each other, which lets the hand reach this position. This is not the case in other animals. You can test this yourself – next time you eat a chicken wing, try to twist the end piece until it is facing down without snapping the bones. So, the palms would face inward, as if clapping.
The problem with feet on popular reconstructions of dinosaurs extends into quadrupedal herbivores as well. Artists unfamiliar with dinosaur anatomy tend to give large herbivores elephant feet. We know from skeletal anatomy, soft-tissue, and trackways that this is incorrect for all groups of dinosaurian quadrupeds.
Compare the feet of this elephant to the Triceratops from Jurassic World (elephant photo by Yathin S Krishnappa), and then see the structure of the forefeet of Triceratops as reconstructed from fossil evidence.
Because large mammals today have such thick, padded limbs, I think artists may be put off by how relatively lithe dinosaurian legs are, but they are as structurally sound as any other animal (consider the thin legs of a horse or moose). This condition may also be due to these animals evolving quadrupedalism relatively recently from a bipedal ancestor, while mammals are ancestrally four-legged.
The “pachyderm” quality of Jurassic World’s herbivores extends to the skin as well. The Brachiosaurus from the first film appears to have skin directly photo-sourced from an elephant while you can again observe this quality in the Triceratops picture above. Compare that to actual fossilized Triceratops skin which I showcase in that section.
Feathers on Dinosaurs
Featherless dinosaurs usually have small-to-moderate sized irregular scales like those on the feet of modern birds. With a couple of exceptions, Jurassic World’s design seems to revolve around “friendly” smooth-skinned herbivores and spiky, scaly “vicious” carnivores. This is again somewhat ironic because most herbivores had rough, scaly skin, some with prominent dermal spines and armor, while most carnivorous dinosaurs either have feathers or extremely tiny scales. After all, you have more need for defense if you are a prey animal.
Further, I find the addition of clearly alligator-inspired armor to theropod dinosaurs (specifically Allosaurus, Baryonyx, and Spinosaurus) to be problematic. These scutes are formed of a network of bones in the skin (an exoskeleton) that is unique to modern crocodilians.
Even the early relatives of crocodiles from the time of dinosaurs didn’t have them arranged in this way. Bony structures in the skin (osteoderms) evolved a couple of times in dinosaurs, most notably in the ankylosaur-stegosaur group, but these look vastly different from that of crocodilians.
More importantly, only one theropod (Ceratosaurus) is known to have them, where they form a single row of small triangular spines down the middle of the back, not a crocodilian-like exoskeleton. The reason I don’t like them as speculative structures either, is that they are incredibly easy to fossilize, so if an animal has them, we are likely to find them.
Of course, this leads to the other point about skin: some dinosaurs have feathers. None do in Jurassic World. It is possible that feather-like structures are ancestral to all dinosaurs, but this issue remains contentious. The dinosaur group we know for certain had feathers are called coelurosaurs. See the feathered Microraptor below:
There are relatively few animals in Jurassic World from this group, including Velociraptor/Deinonychus, Compsognathus (possibly), Gallimimus, and Tyrannosaurus (possibly). So, although this is generally the main point of contention when Jurassic World’s dinosaurs are criticized, I would argue it is a relatively minor point. The real issue involves the pterosaurs, which should be covered in hair or down-like fibers. It is currently unknown if these structures are related to feathers.
Jurassic Park Dinosaur Profiles
The next sections will outline what we currently know about these extinct animals as well as an overview of their movie counterparts. This information continues to change as new information becomes known.
Velociraptor / Deinonychus
The first thing that must be established when talking about the raptors of the Jurassic Park universe and this is that they are not Velociraptor. The design was instead based on a larger animal from the same family known as Deinonychus.
Around the time of the first book and film, prominent researcher Greg S. Paul had reassigned the species Deinonychus antirrhopus to the genus Velociraptor, as Velociraptor antirrhopus. This was not adopted by any other paleontologists, but as Paul’s book was the main reference for Crichton, the name change was retained. Crichton would later apologize to Dr. John Ostrom, who described Deinonychus, for using the incorrect name for the animal.
Now with that out of the way, let’s discuss Deinonychus. Both Velociraptor and Deinonychus belong to the family Dromaeosauridae, a group of small-to-medium-sized predatory dinosaurs with an enlarged, sickle-shaped claw on the hind feet. This claw was kept in a raised position when walking, likely to keep it sharp. We know from specimens with preserved soft tissue that the claw would have been even longer and more pointed in life than the underlying bone suggests.
The current hypothesis suggests that dromaeosaurids would leap on their prey, using the claws like grapples to hold on as they dispatched their victims with their jaws. This means Dr. Grant’s cautionary speech to the child at the beginning of Jurassic Park is essentially right on-the-money, except that the claws were used for grabbing, not slashing.
Of course, feathers are the biggest point of discussion surrounding Velociraptor. At least 6 different species of dromaeosaurid have been published with evidence of feathers since 1998, with more still unpublished. This includes Velociraptor itself, which preserves the points on the bone where the large wing feathers would have attached, called ulnar papillae or quill knobs.
These quill knobs are generally only present in birds that have particularly large wings that require extra anchoring to the bone. This, plus the exceptionally large wings preserved in its close relative Zhenyuanlong mean that it is safest to assume Velociraptor had quite sizable wings too.
Triceratops is one of the most famous dinosaurs in the world. Almost everyone is familiar with its three-horned head. Thanks to a brilliant new specimen (see photos in the dinosaur basics section above), we now have a much clearer picture of what the animal would have looked like in life. It was covered mostly in palm-sized pentagonal scales, some of which show an additional raised structure in their center. The belly was covered in rows of smaller, rectangular scales.
Some paleontologists have argued that the bone texture on the skull suggests the head and frill was covered in hard horn-like skin, but others report that unpublished specimens show scales like those on the body. So, the jury is still out on this.
The growth series of Triceratops is also well known, and from this, we can see that the animal’s horns first grew backward and slowly curved forwards as the animal aged. The classic “double swoop” horn shape is the intermediate stage seen in subadults. Jurassic World gets this right, as the juveniles horns point backward. Jack Horner appears to have advised them on this.
Stegosaurus is one of those dinosaurs that everyone knows, but it has undergone a somewhat significant change in appearance over the last 10 years. Those depicted in The Lost World: Jurassic Park in 1997 are good reconstructions for the time, with the main problem being their size. Stegosaurus was about 30 feet (9 meters) long at maximum, those in the film look to be between 40 to 50 feet (12 to 15 meters) long.
Evidence from trackways suggests that stegosaurs traveled in groups including both adults and juveniles, so I am pleased that The Lost World showed this behavior along with parental care. It is also nice to see a herbivore depicted as threatening for once!
In 2003 a new specimen of Stegosaurus, nicknamed Sophie, was uncovered in Wyoming. With over 80% of the skeleton accounted for, Sophie is the most complete individual ever found. Among other small differences, Sophie made us realize the famous outline of Stegosaurus was different in a few major ways.
The first thing you might notice is the neck is much longer, and the legs much shorter relative to the body. Sophie also confirmed the arrangement of the plates along the back, somewhat different from that seen in The Lost World, and other old reconstructions.
Unfortunately, instead of incorporating this new data, in 2015 Jurassic World regressed their stegosaur design further, enlarging the head, curving the back, and lowering the tail making it look more like a Stegosaurus from the 1800s. I’m trying to keep this article mostly positive, but I have nothing nice to say about this design change. They looked much better in 1997.
Outside of Sophie, we have also obtained some stegosaur skin impressions in recent years. Though sparse, they show us that the skin was covered in small scales, including the lower fourth of the plates. The upper portion of these structures had a horny cover of keratin, as depicted in the films. We also know from various specimens that Stegosaurus had a network of bony ossicles in the skin on the underside of its neck, these may have been for extra protection in a vulnerable area.
Parasaurolophus is one of the few animals to have the prestige of being featured in every Jurassic Park movie, which is funny because they are mostly blink-and-you’ll-miss-them appearances. In Jurassic World, a pair can be seen fighting for dominance in the background, which I quite like.
Parasaurolophus belongs to a group of dinosaurs called the hadrosaurids, which are commonly known as “duck-billed dinosaurs” in popular media. This is something of a misnomer, as the horny beak that covered the bone of the snout would have hung over quite substantially, giving it an external appearance perhaps superficially more like a turtle beak.
Preserved skin also shows that hadrosaurs were covered head-to-toe in various patterns of small scales, often with different types of weird feature scales scattered among them. These include rows of large spine or plate-like scales on the midline of the back. Parasaurolophus, from the skin impressions we have, was on the blander side, with an even covering of tiny rounded scales.
The most iconic feature of this animal is the huge tube-like crest on its head. One of the leading ideas on the function of this structure is that it aided in sound production. In 1997, a team took a mold of the chamber inside the skull to recreate the potential sounds that Parasaurolophus could have made. You can find sound clips from this on YouTube. This study served as inspiration for a plot point in Jurassic Park 3 where Dr. Grant molds the resonating chamber of a Velociraptor and uses it to communicate with the animals.
All-in-all, hadrosaurs are some of the most well-known extinct dinosaurs in terms of life appearance as we have numerous “mummy” specimens wrapped in fossilized skin and tissue. From these we now have a pretty good grasp on the external shape of this family, noting, in particular, their thick necks and tails. Hadrosaurs such as Parasaurolophus and Corythosaurus dominated the Cretaceous period due to their evolutionary innovations.
One of the most interesting discoveries to come from these mummy specimens in recent years is the revelation that hadrosaurs had unique hoof-like structures on their front feet. Check out the above image provided by the North Dakota Geological Survey. This adds to growing evidence that hadrosaurs were mostly quadrupedal animals and did not frequently switch from two legs to four.
Gallimimus is usually depicted in Jurassic Park media as being the typical small herbivore. This is interesting as they were anything but small, with adults reaching about 20 feet (6 meters) long with the neck outstretched and about 6 feet (2 meters) tall at the hips.
They are shown to be herding animals, moving like a flock of birds. This is corroborated in the fossil record by a large bonebed of related Sinornithomimus, which appears to have died together after becoming stuck in a muddy substrate.
There is no solid evidence yet on what ornithomimids like Gallimimus ate. It almost certainly would have included plants, but what kinds and how much it was supplemented with animal material remains a mystery.
This is one of the two animals in the franchise that should absolutely be depicted with feathers. Several ornithomimid fossils have been found over the past 10 years with feathers preserved. We know quite a lot about their appearances now from these specimens. The feathers were emu-like, with a central shaft and loose barbs on either side. They possessed long feathers on the arms that seem to have only grown-in during adulthood, and the lower legs were bare, like an ostrich.
Surprisingly, the famous and iconic Apatosaurus never made an appearance in the original Jurassic Park trilogy despite being present in the books. This was finally amended in 2015’s Jurassic World.
Most people are aware of this animal because of its complicated taxonomic history involving its sister genus, Brontosaurus. Since 2015, Brontosaurus is tentatively recognized as its own genus again, but this is out of the scope of this article to discuss. Scientific American has a good article on this subject. We will assume as the animal in Jurassic World is called Apatosaurus, it is meant to be the type species Apatosaurus ajax.
Many people, especially those born before the era of Jurassic Park, still picture this animal as the classic, tail-dragging, swamp-dwelling brontosaur of yore. Of course, we’ve known since at least the 1970s that these animals were fully terrestrial and held their tails off the ground. It was also believed that since the nasal openings were on the top of the skull, the nostril must have been as well. Many believed that was used as a snorkel.
We know this is false, as the animal would have been suffocated by the pressure of the water. Because nostrils are normally found on the lowest portion of the nasal opening, in addition to some conspicuous grooves in the skull, it is now believed the soft-tissue would have moved the nostril down into a more typical position near the end of the snout.
To Jurassic World’s credit, it gets all of the above correct. The Apatosaurus from the movie suffers most from the basic issues discussed at the beginning of the article: elephantine skin and limbs as well as far too many claws on all of its limbs. This group of sauropods, as well as many others, had only one sharp claw on the inner toe of the front feet. The rest of the digits lacked a nail completely. Only 3 toe claws were present on the back feet.
One noteworthy feature of Apatosaurus is its robust neck. As paleontologist Mike Taylor points out, apatosaur necks are “Toblerones, not tubes.” Taylor’s recent research on Apatosaurus necks shows that these structures were resistant to impact while also having the musculature to generate a considerable downward force. This led to the hypothesis that the neck was used in combat, something like giraffes today. Do note that I drew Apatosaurus before the paper discussed above came out. I did my best to edit its posture, but it would likely be tilted upright even more than shown.
Additionally, each neck vertebrae possess a pair of downward pointing nodules. Most conservatively, this would have improved the neck’s weaponry with paired rows of bony bumps, but Taylor’s team hypothesized that they could also have supported a bony covering, resulting in paired rows of spines.
Another discovery affecting Apatosaurus appeared within the last month. A new paper on the fellow sauropod (long-necked dinosaur) Spinophorosaurus points out some new anatomy regarding the sacrum (the vertebrate over/between the hips): they tilt upwards. This affects the whole posture of the animal, angling its spine upwards.
This is probably a good time to mention that suggestions appearing in the late 1990s that diplodocids, like Apatosaurus, would have habitually held their necks horizontal to the ground have been argued against by leading experts. We now believe they likely held them with an upward slant. This slant would have been exaggerated even further by new data on sacrum posture.
The Lost World briefly featured another sauropod that promotional material and other media since have referred to as Mamenchisaurus. However, production notes from the film indicate the CGI model was probably designed to be “Seismosaurus,” which was the largest known sauropod at the time. “Seismosaurus” has since been reassigned as a species of Diplodocus. This animal could reach a whopping 98 feet (30 meters) long or more, making it one of the longest land animals ever. The model for the film was made by stretching out the Brachiosaurus from the first Jurassic Park.
In addition to being the most well-known Mesozoic dinosaur of all, it is probably the most well studied, with a fair number of specimens are known. Detailed studies have gone into essentially every aspect of its skeleton. I think the Jurassic Park version of T. rex captures the essence of the animal pretty well, though the proportions are off in a number of ways, some small, some large.
The aspect often criticized is the fact the movie shows the animal to have “vision based on movement.” In reality, it seems that Tyrannosaurus had exceptional eyesight, with studies indicating that it has a binocular field of view greater than that of a hawk. It could see objects in full clarity approximately 3.7 miles (6 kilometers) away! This should come as no surprise as it would be strange for a giant predator to be unable to detect still objects.
With that said, I don’t have a problem with depicting a predator choosing not to eat simply because it was no longer hungry. It wouldn’t have been anyhow, seeing as it had just nabbed a goat and a lawyer.
I should point out that despite what you may have heard, we do not now think that T. rex was a scavenger and we never did. This was a thought experiment put forward by Jack Horner to educate children on the scientific process that, unfortunately, leaked into the public consciousness and where it was mythologized. We have direct evidence, in the form of herbivores with healed T. rex bite marks, that the animal was an active predator of large dinosaurs.
If you have caught a glimpse of the discourse surrounding T. rex in the modern palaeoart community, you may notice two main issues that get brought up: feathers and lips. To cover the latter briefly: “lips” here is shorthand for immobile tissue on the outside of the snout that covers the teeth, as is present in lizards. We don’t mean movable, sensitive lips as in mammals including humans.
Most dinosaur paleontologists argue that it is the default assumption that land-living vertebrates have tissue covering their teeth. This, plus the arrangement of foramina (holes in the bone allowing nutrients to reach the surface tissue) support this condition for extinct dinosaurs too.
Others have argued that the fact living archosaurs (birds and crocodiles) lack this tissue. Likewise, certain skull textures indicate dinosaurs would have exposed teeth more like a crocodile. You can see T. rex depicted with lips below, and without them at the top of the article. I tend to support their presence, as I think the interpretations of skull texture by the anti-lip camp are incorrect. You can find more on this on phys.org.
Feathers on tyrannosaurs are also a somewhat complicated issue. We know for sure that the ancestors of Tyrannosaurus had them all over their bodies. However, skin impressions on T. rex and its closest relatives show tiny scales. We have these impressions from most areas of the body, but none of the pieces are larger than a playing card. This makes interpretations of the full-body covering difficult. It has also been argued that because of its large size, a pelage of plumage would cause an adult T. rex to overheat. For now, it seems that a thick covering of feathers like its early ancestors is unlikely, though a light covering of filaments between the scales may not be out of the question.
Mosasaurus is the second prehistoric animal in the Jurassic franchise that is not a dinosaur. Unlike the flying pterosaurs, it is not even vaguely related to dinosaurs. Mosasaurs are a group of cretaceous sea-lizards that are probably most closely related to snakes among living groups.
Although they look superficially like Komodo dragons with flippers, they are likely not as closely related to monitor lizards as previously thought. Although far from the Godzilla-sized creature featured in Jurassic World, Mosasaurus was a giant animal, with the largest species reaching perhaps around 43 feet (13 meters) long. Some erroneous estimates suggested up to 56 feet (17 meters)!
The animal in the film is depicted as a giant serpentine animal with gnarly, crocodile-inspired skin and several rows of spines. We know from some recently uncovered and beautifully preserved specimens that the life appearance of mosasaurs was much more like a lizard trying to be a shark. These specimens show tiny, keeled, overlapping, snake-like scales, which would have helped keep the animal streamlined. It can also be seen that mosasaurs possess a greatly enlarged soft-tissue outline, as well as a fluke-shaped tail.
The anatomy of the palate and its relation to other animals suggests mosasaurs may have had a forked tongue for detecting prey in the water like a sea snake. One detail the film got right is the presence of a second row of teeth on the upper jaw of the animal.
The clubbed-tailed, armor-hided Ankylosaurus is reportedly a favorite dinosaur of Jurassic World director Colin Trevorrow, and thus was given a notable feature in that film. It had a brief debut in Jurassic Park 3.
Ankylosaurus has received something of a makeover recently at the hands of my colleagues Victoria Arbour and Jordan Mallon, who reviewed all known material of the animal and published this data in 2017 (image below). I was lucky enough to be involved in the creation of the reconstruction used for this paper. This reconstruction involved a complete rethinking of the placement of armor, based on its closest relatives. Additionally, it expanded the overall size compared to previous models.
Even compared to some of its relatives, Ankylosaurus wasn’t particularly spikey, with its armor taking on a more flat, or rounded, plate-like look. It is also an absolute unit of an animal, with a wide and somewhat flat body and short legs. See our reconstruction below, with credit to Jacob Baardse:
The animal would not have been light, with estimates suggesting up to around 8 tons. With such heft and proportions, it is unlikely this animal would have been able to run as quickly as depicted in the films. Although it ends up getting killed by the hybrid monster, I am glad we got to finally see an ankylosaur use its tail club in a big-budget Hollywood film.
One could argue that pterosaurs have received an even more rotten deal in mainstream pop-culture compared to dinosaurs. Flying reptiles are usually depicted as giant screeching, naked-or-scaly, bat-like toothed monster-birds that carry off (often human) prey in their talons to feed to their nests of screeching babies. The Jurassic Park and Jurassic World animals fit firmly in this paradigm, and I contend that this stereotype is incorrect.
While some pterosaurs, like the Quetzalcoatlus, reached enormous sizes, Pteranodon was more modest. This genus is sexually dimorphic, with the males being much larger than females. Though not airplane sized, with wingspans of up to 23 feet (7 meters), male Pteranodon were still larger than any bird that has ever flown. However, they would have been notably shorter than a person when grounded, and females much more so. As the animals in Jurassic World are meant to all be female, their Pteranodon should really have much smaller wingspans of 10 to 13 feet (3 to 4 meters). To their credit, however, they do depict their pterosaurs correctly with only a short stub of a crest on the head because only males possess the iconic long crest. See the skull diagram below by Matt Martyniuk:
Those in Jurassic World, like those in The Lost World, but unlike those in Jurassic Park 3, are correctly depicted without teeth. Although many pterosaurs did have teeth, Pteranodon did not. In fact, its name means “winged without teeth.”
We do not know exactly what sounds pterosaurs were capable of, though they would have lacked a syrinx, the structure used by modern birds to make the complex array of calls they are capable of. This doesn’t rule out a high-pitched whistle-like or chirping call, as juvenile crocodiles are able to make similar sounds without a syrinx. It is also possible that pterosaurs developed a wholly different method of generating sound, but I would rule on the side of caution when depicting them with a banshee-like screech. I’d suggest chirping, booming, hooting, or even bellowing to be safer options.
The body coverings of pterosaurs have actually been known for decades now, with the first evidence appearing in the 1970s. Recently, more beautiful specimens have appeared. These put to bed the notion of scaly or naked pterosaurs, instead showing these animals to have been covered in hair or down-like filaments. These structures extend even onto the wings in some species, though others did have naked leathery membranes. Scales appear only on the feet.
Pretty much as long as Pteranodon has appeared in films, it has been depicted carrying off hapless humans in its talons to dangle over its nest of grotesque youngsters. This behavior is obviously based on modern birds of prey, like eagles, but doesn’t make much sense for pterosaurs. For one, as discussed above, Pteranodon would not be large enough to fly with the weight of a person attached. Even if scaled up as it is in these films, pterosaur feet were built more like those of an alligator than an eagle. It would not be capable of picking up prey.
Furthermore, preserved pterosaur eggs and young indicates they would not have been nest-fed by parents like birds. The eggs were buried underground, like a turtle, and the young would have been able to take care of themselves from hatching. While parents may have guarded the nests, as in crocodilians, they would not have needed to feed their young.
One behavior Jurassic World did right was showing the animals diving for prey in the lagoon, even if that prey was human and not fish. It is also likely that mosasaurs would have fed on pterosaurs in the manner shown. This was nice to see all around, so good job movie.
The second pterosaur depicted in Jurassic World gets an even worse deal than Pteranodon. The movie gets points for the depiction of a more obscure animal, Dimorphodon, a lesser-known primitive pterosaur from the early-Jurassic Period. Unfortunately, this is probably my least favorite reconstruction in the whole series, as it looks more like a gargoyle than a real pterosaur.
It does, at least, have a sparse covering of fibers on its back. It also has the large head of Dimorphodon, but the skull of the real animal was far more wedge-shaped and less boxy. Its head was even larger in comparison to the body than the movie shows. Movies tend to undersize the heads of pterosaurs, which were often absurdly large to the point that they often look “wrong” to laymen audiences.
The pterosaurs in these movies are depicted partially quadrupedal, to their credit, but they have a habit of hopping up onto their hind legs a lot. In The Lost World, a pteranodon perches on a branch like a giant vulture, which is pretty unlikely. All pterosaurs were quadrupeds, walking on their wings when on the ground. After decades of uncertainty, some recent trackways have confirmed that early pterosaurs like Dimorphodon walked with their fingers facing forwards, which is not something we understood prior.
There is not much else I can say about this little gremlin, so all I can do is show the realistic reconstruction for comparison. The above artwork by Mark Witton further showcases the stance of Dimophodon.
Here is an animal, like Velociraptor, that gained fame from the first Jurassic Park film, but in a completely different form than reality. Funnily enough, in real life, Dilophosaurus was about the size of the Jurassic Park raptors, while Velociraptor was about the size of the spitter as depicted in the film. Their sizes were essentially swapped. Spielberg ordered this done to avoid audience confusion between the two animals, but there is also a clip online of Stan Winston (RIP) arguing that the animal seen in the film is a juvenile.
The real Dilophosaurus was a primitive theropod, either related to coelopysoids like Procompsognathus or slightly more advanced. it is one of the oldest known large carnivorous dinosaurs, living during the early Jurassic period.
There is no evidence that Dilophosaurus was venomous or had a cowl like the frilled-neck lizard. I have respect for this, rather than disdain like some experts. It was an attempt to depict speculative behavior and to show that we can’t know everything from fossils. Crichton made this point explicitly regarding the venom. The mistake they made with the cowl was that, for one, they copied a structure directly from a living animal, and two, the frilled lizard’s cowl does have bony supports that would likely fossilize. I have illustrated Dilophosaurus here with an inflatable, soft-tissue only neck structure more like that of a tragopan.
Brachiosaurus / Giraffatitan
The first reveal of the Brachiosaurus in the original Jurassic Park film will forever be one of my favorite moments in cinema. Out of the dinosaurs from that film, it arguably holds up the best, if you don’t count the parasaurs which get the benefit of being low-res in the background.
There honestly isn’t much to say here that was not covered in the Apatosaurus section, or from our discussion of general dinosaur anatomy at the beginning of this article. One key takeaway involves the identification of the animal. The “Brachiosaurus” in the film was based on an animal now known as Giraffatitan brancai but was then known as Brachiosaurus brancai, similar to the situation with Velociraptor. The extremely high nasal with the exaggerated curve comes from Giraffatitan, with Brachiosaurus having a shallower curve and lower skull overall.
Procompsognathus / Compsognathus
So this animal, usually called a “Compy” by fans, probably has the hardest to pin-down identity in the whole franchise. In the books, they are Procompsognathus triassicus, so no problem there. In the script for The Lost World, they are referred to as “Compsognathus triassicus”, which is not a real species (there are 2 species of Compsognathus, C. longipes, and C. corallestris). In the film itself, the actor appears to correctly say Procompsognathus triassicus. The description of being “discovered by Fraas in Bavaria, 1913” is also true for Procompsognathus.
Yet, almost all promotional content for the films since have referred to this animal as Compsognathus, including a film-canon viral site for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. In a video for Stan Winston Studios, the creator of the animatronics for the original Lost World film refers to them as Procompsognathus throughout. I’m going to run with the idea that they are Procompsognathus here, contrary to most people in the Jurassic fandom and indeed official canon.
So how do they hold up as Procompsognathus? Pretty well, honestly. The skull shape is probably a little too triangular and the belly has the classic Greg Paul “swoop” which is widely considered to be inaccurate.
The most glaring issue is of course the zombie-hands, as detailed at the start of the article. Those of Compys have an especially peculiar praying mantis-like quality to them. Procompsognathus itself, being an incredibly early type of theropod, would still have had 4 short fingers, 3 with claws, and one vestigial, claw-less digit.
Being outside of coelurosauria, this animal is still technically fine to depict without feathers, but with feather-like structures being discovered on ornithischians and pterosaurs, I would not bet on this position holding out for very long. Some would argue the ship has already sailed.
While commendable for giving the spotlight to an obscure species, this animal got the short end of the stick in its depiction. For starters, this was originally supposed to be a different ceratopsian, called Pachyrhinosaurus. After the first trailer for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom dropped, the sheer number of fans stating how little it looked like this animal caused it to be renamed Sinoceratops in all related media. Additionally, the art team appears to have referenced the Pachyrhinosaurus character from the 2013 film Walking with Dinosaurs 3D, which had a deformity that left a hole in its frill. This led to the animal in Fallen Kingdom to be incorrectly depicted with paired holes in the same place in its frill.
The rest of its body is not up to scratch either, seemingly based on rhinos rather than ceratopsians. This makes for one of the worst offenders in Jurassic’s “elephantication” of herbivorous dinosaurs, except in this case it is more of a “rhinofication.”
We don’t know much about Sinoceratops, as it is currently known only from a partial skull consisting of the area around the eye-socket, the nose horn, and the top half of the frill. My reconstruction here is based mostly on its closest known relative, Wendiceratops. The bust depicted alongside is Pachyrhinosaurus.
Baryonyx was the first relatively complete specimen of a spinosaurid ever discovered, after having nothing but the iconic vertebrae of Spinosaurus for 70 years. Its discovery revealed one of the most unique looking large carnivorous dinosaurs ever discovered. Unlike the tall, boxy skulls of more famous theropods, Baryonyx had a long, narrow, snaggle-toothed snout and robust arms with enormous, hooked claws. These are thought to be adaptations for catching fish, as mounting evidence has since suggested that indeed spinosaurs spend large amounts of time in the water. Certain trackways from the cretaceous of Spain show that these animals may have even had webbed feet!
Jurassic World, unfortunately, ended up minimizing most of these features, making it look much more like a generic monster theropod, In fact, the design looks almost identical to their depiction of the adult Allosaurus. This is only my opinion, but I don’t really get the point of using Baryonyx if you are going to downplay its most distinctive features. I especially don’t get the de-emphasis of the meat-hook claws on its hands, which seem like prime movie monster material.
In 2020, while this article was being written, the tail of a close relative of Baryonyx, the Spinosaurus, was finally unearthed. You may be familiar with Spinosaurus from its depiction in Jurassic Park 3 as an unstoppable tyrannosaur-slaying super predator. This exact media depiction helped propel its popularity in the early 2000s.
Well, discoveries over the past decade have completely changed how we view Spinosaurus. This animal was a short-legged, newt-tailed, semi-aquatic ambush predator. It may have lived like a giant flightless heron or pelican. The tail discovered in 2020 shows that the spines were extremely long and thin and formed an almost tadpole-like shape. The tail (and leg) material we have from Baryonyx is almost nil, and as the animal is related to Spinosaurus, this condition is not out of the question for Baryonyx.
Though not perfect, the Carnotaurus featured in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is by far the best of the new animals to debut in the Jurassic World films. This is shown in the below comparison to an artist reconstruction by Lida Xing. Its proportions were made just a little bit too tyrannosaur-like, as Carnotaurus has a really unique build, with long legs, a small head for a theropod, devil horns, and truly tiny arms that would have been barely functional. Carnotaurus is also one of the few primitive large theropods with known skin impressions, which show it had extremely tiny rounded scales punctuated by rows of larger, conical feature scales. The one in Fallen Kingdom doesn’t look too far off, though they’ve greatly exaggerated the pointiness of the feature scales.
With elongate lower legs and thick musculature on the thighs and tail, Carnotaurus was built for speed more than any other large dinosaurian predator. The highest estimates put its top speed at a terrifying 35 miles (56 kilometers) per hour. Unlike the ambush-hunting tyrannosaurs and raptors, it likely would have actually chased down prey. In fact, of all the theropods featured in the Jurassic films, Carnotaurus is probably the one I’d least want to encounter, as humans would be right in its prey-range and you’d not be able to outrun it.
Jurassic Park 3 showed off a close relative of Carnotaurus from the Jurassic Period, Ceratosaurus. The dinosaur was originally slated to be Carnotaurus but was switched, as Disney’s Dinosaur used Carnotaurus as the primary antagonist a year earlier. The animal was depicted much larger than in reality, as Ceratosaurus was on the smaller side as large theropods go. The model used in the film appeared to be a modification of the existing Tyrannosaurus model.
After smelling Spinosaurus dung, it wisely chooses to retreat to avoid the larger carnivore. Ceratosaurus faced competition from a larger Jurassic theropod, Allosaurus.
Way back in the days of stop-motion dinosaur movies, Allosaurus was used about as frequently as T. rex, Since Jurassic Park it has had a bit of a lull, appearing finally in the most recent film. It appears in two different forms, as a juvenile in Fallen Kingdom and as an adult in the short-film Battle at Big Rock.
Allosaurus was the apex predator of the Jurassic ecosystem which contained famous herbivores such as Stegosaurus, Brachiosaurus, and Apatosaurus. There are 3 species currently recognized: Allosaurus fragilis and Allosaurus jimmadseni from North America, and Allosaurus europaeus from Europe. Interestingly, the Jurassic World allosaur is based on specimens assigned to A. jimmadseni, a species finally named in 2020.
The juvenile featured in Fallen Kingdom (above) is one of the most accurate dinosaurs in the Jurassic World films. Aside from all the basic problems shared by all Jurassic Park dinosaurs, to point out anything else would be nitpicking. The adult featured in Battle at Big Rock is less accurate overall, but it should be pointed out that it holds its hands in the correct, inward-facing posture. It is the first animal in the franchise to do so.
Pachycephalosaurus / Stygimoloch
Here is another dinosaur with a complicated taxonomic situation. “Stygimoloch” as presented in the film is probably not a unique animal. Initially, Stygimoloch was described as a unique small pachycephalosaur living alongside the more famous Pachycephalosaurus, with a reduced dome and large horns at the back of its head. Later, another even smaller pachycephalosaur with long spikes but no dome was described from the same rocks. Shortly after, many argued that these specimens are both juveniles and that the dome grows in as the animal ages, absorbing the horns and resulting in the traditional Pachycephalosaurus condition.
This has been the recent consensus among dinosaur paleontologists. However, some very recent work has shown that all the long-horned specimens come from slightly younger rocks than the short-horned skulls, and additional juvenile skulls with no dome and short horns have been found from the latter layers as well. This paints a more complicated picture where the “Dracorex” and “Stygimoloch” specimens are juveniles, but it may be from a later, smaller, longer-horned species of Pachycephalosaurus that evolved from the traditional species. Below is a modified from an image by GetAwayTrike showcasing this.
According to Jack Horner, a consultant for the Jurassic World films, after reading the script the only thing he asked them to change was to replace “Stygimoloch” as he did not believe it to be a real species. They did not oblige.
The dinosaur as depicted in the final film looks and acts like a cartoon version of the real thing. The Pachycephalosaurus seen in The Lost World (and briefly on a monitor in Jurassic World) looks quite significantly better. You can really tell they looked at actual skulls and skeletons when creating the animatronics and CG models. Something about pachycephalosaurs that often gets missed is that their heads aren’t the only thing that is thick! Their bodies are quite wide and round. This may have even been an adaptation to protect their internal organs during flank-butting contents.
This ceratopsian described in 2013 is the most recent dinosaur added to the franchise, appearing in the short-film Battle at Big Rock, and social media updates from Trevarrow show it will be featured in the 2021 sequel Jurassic World: Dominion. It is a neat looking animal, with a rounded face, and two outward curving brow horns like those of a big bull. I must give a few points to the Jurassic World team here, not only did they give the spotlight to a lesser-known animal, but they improved the anatomy quite significantly from the disappointing Sinoceratops seen in Fallen Kingdom.
The proportions are better, less rhino-like, and at least on the adults the feet look better. I also appreciate that the horns appear to be extended with keratin sheaths and that they gave distinct designs to the male and female. These are small details that have been missing since the first couple of films and it shows that we may be heading in the right direction in the future!
The Future of Science in Jurassic World
This article has taken a scientific eye to the dinosaurs of the Jurassic Park and Jurassic World movies. While movies are for entertainment, many people base their knowledge of paleontology from this franchise. Here, I hope to provide a resource to educate people on the science behind these extinct animals.
Did you learn anything new from this article? If so leave us a comment and let us know which animal was your favorite. If you want to follow me, you can find me on Twitter. I am a game designer and researcher for Saurian, a realistic dinosaur game.
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