All over the world for well over a century paleontologists have discovered millions of fossils which have preserved the once dominant lifeform on this planet: dinosaurs! They have recorded literally thousands of different types of dinos and studying them all would be a daunting task, to say the least. However, choosing just a few of the most popular examples is a good start to introducing your child to the wonderful world of paleontology and pre-historic life.
The dinosaurs in this list of fun facts are from the Safari Toobs collection of Mixed Dinosaurs and our set of Montessori 3-part cards. You can print this article out and use it as complementary material to either of these sets. Some of the images in the article can be a little scary as they depict realistic images of the dinosaurs they describe, so I recommend using this lesson guide with kids aged 5 and older. Once you expose your child to the dinos on this list they will be itching to learn even more about these amazing creatures!
Fun facts of the dinos
Scientific name: Apatosaurus excelsius
Dimensions: length 19 m, height 5 m, weight 30 tons.
Apatosaurus had a very long neck and tail, a barrel-like body with an arched back, and four fairly short columnar legs, with squat fleshy feet, similar to those of an elephant. The head of this dinosaur was triangular in shape with a tapered snout and dozens of long and narrow teeth at the front of the mouth, perfect for raking away the leaves from the branches of trees.
For a certain period, it was even thought that these Dinosaurs were viviparous, that they gave birth to small, already formed babies, like mammals. This was because a Sauropod fossil egg has never been found. And no one believed it possible that a pup small enough to hatch from an egg could reach such enormous dimensions in such a short time. Today, however, we know that the Sauropods, after hatching from eggs the size of a soccer ball, grew very quickly in relation to their adult size.
Scientific name: Triceratops horridus
Dimensions: length 10 m, height 3.5 m, weight 5 tons.
Triceratops lived in North America in the Upper Cretaceous, about 65 million years ago and was, along with Tyrannosaurus and Ankylosaurus, one of the last dinosaurs to trample the earth’s soil before the great mass extinction that ended the reign of the dinosaurs.
The anatomy of Triceratops was massive, similar to that of rhinos and hippopotami, with strong legs and 5-toed feet and hands with hooves, and a short, thin tail. The prominent feature was the skull. Wedge-shaped, with a parrot beak at the front of the muzzle, and a bone collar behind the head, it resembled a wide fan and covered the neck and skull. The collar of Triceratops possessed a series of triangular spines that covered the entire surface. He also had two long and curved horns above the eyes, and a third shorter conical horn at the center of the snout, above the nostrils. These horns were probably used as a defense and allowed the various species to differentiate themselves.
Scientific name: Iguanodon bernissartensis
Dimensions: length 10 m, height 4 m, weight 3 tons.
Iguanodon was an herbivore that lived in Europe during the Lower Cretaceous, about 125 million years ago. His remains have been found in Belgium, Spain, and other European countries, while other very similar species lived in America and Asia.
The Iguanodon was a very robust dinosaur, able to move both in bipedal and quadruped position. This dinosaur had a long, high head that ended in a beak, while the teeth, similar to those of an iguana, were found in the back of the mouth.
One of Iguanodon’s main features was his thumb, which consisted of a conical claw protruding from the four other fingers. The use of this thumb is still unknown, but it’s possible that it was used as a weapon of defense or in the fights between the male species.
Scientific name: Stegosaurus stenops
Dimensions: length 9 m, height 3 m, weight 4 tons.
Stegosaurus was a quadruped vegetarian dinosaur that lived during the Upper Jurassic. Stegosaurus was a dinosaur with a most peculiar anatomy. It had a massive armored body, with long, columnar, strong hind legs and shorter but equally strong front legs. An imposing physique for sure! However, in stark contrast, it had a head so small that it seems disproportionate to its body. It was elongated and was equipped with a rounded toothless beak in the front. But even stranger was the size of his brain, which was the size of an apricot. Scholars wonder how such a small brain could manage to control such a large body.
Another special feature of this dinosaur was the bony plates on its back. Studies have shown that these plates were covered by a myriad of capillaries, and were most likely moved by the animal, like fans. In the hottest moments of the day, it filled these plates with blood and flapped them in the air, a bit like elephants do with their ears, to keep cool.
Scientific name: Ankylosaurus magniventris
Dimensions: length 9m, height 2.5m, weight: 7 tons.
Ankylosaurus is among the strangest and most impressive creatures that have ever walked on our planet. Its petrified dorsal shell was welded into a single block. The Ankylosaurus lived between 65 and 70 million years ago in North America.
Its habitat is uncertain. Considering its physical structure and its dimensions, it is difficult to think that it could live in a forest, in which it would have had difficulties of movement. Perhaps he lived in open spaces like large floodplains.
Scientists are not even certain of their diet. Ankylosaurus had small and non-differentiated teeth, not very suitable for chewing. It is assumed that they were vegetarians, but what kind of vegetables they fed on is still unknown.
After a certain age, when they exceeded eight meters in length, the Ankylosaurs became almost certainly unassailable by predators so they would not have needed the protection offered by the sheer numbers of a pack. Moreover, their massive heads contained a small brain, hence an Ankylosaurus certainly did not have to be social.
Scientific name: Tyrannosaurus rex
Dimensions: length 12 m, height 4 m, weight 5 tons.
The Tyrannosaurus lived in North America in the Upper Cretaceous, about 65 million years ago, and had incredible anatomy. Long and mighty hind legs and a compact muscular body allowed it to speed across many terrains to attack its prey. A short and strong neck supported an enormous head, which was armed with fifty serrated teeth up to 15 centimeters long. His mouth was so big and powerful it was able to crush bones with a single chomp!
CT scans of the skull then revealed an enormous olfactory cavity, which gave the dinosaur the ability to smell prey tens of kilometers away. The Tyrannosaurus had a stereoscopic vision, like birds of prey, cats, and humans. It was a unique feature among dinosaurs. The Tyrannosaurus rex was a super-predator, as are the tiger and lion today. However, it did not refuse at all to devour some carrion that it happened to find.
Scientific name: Dimetrodon limbatus
Dimensions: length 3 m, height 1.5 m, weight 300 kg.
Often confused as a dinosaur, Dimetrodon was actually a quadruped synapsid reptile that lived in the Permian period, about 280 million years ago, 40 million years before the appearance of the dinosaurs.
The Dimetrodon was probably a super predator of its ecosystem and fed on fish, reptiles, and amphibians. This animal had a very special feature, a large sail positioned above his back. Numerous hypotheses have been put forward on the function of the sail. In the past, the most accepted was that this structure served for body thermoregulation and served to assume or disperse heat rapidly. However, now it is mainly thought that the sail had only the function of sexual display.
Scientific name: Velociraptor mongoliensis
Dimensions: length 1.5 m, height 1 m, weight 40 kg.
The Velociraptor was a fast and agile dinosaur with a very light structure and hollow bones like those of birds. But the similarities to birds don’t end here. The furcula (the famous wishbone in chickens), the sternal bone and a very particular wrist joint allowed the Velociraptor to rotate the hand like birds during flight.
Although small, it had strong and long hind legs, which gave it considerable agility and speed. But, above all, it had surprising leaping abilities. Its tail was made to provide an optimal balance while running.
The shape of its skull is prominent and almost unmistakable. It is elongated and slightly curved upwards. He had great eyesight thanks to large eyes and partial binocular vision. Possessing an above-average sized brain for a dinosaur, he was surely one of the cleverest predators of its time.
The mouth, with many relatively small teeth, was not much of a weapon, especially when compared to its unique claws. Three elongated fingers were equipped with sharp nails to grasp, while the feet were equipped with the famous scythe claw on the inner toe, with which he issued deadly slashes.
Scientific name: Spinosaurus aegyptiacus
Dimensions: length 13 m, height 4 m, weight 6 tons.
Spinosaurus lived in the Lower Cretaceous in what is now the African subcontinent, more precisely in Morrocco and Egypt. It was a large carnivorous dinosaur, probably the largest of the Theropod dinosaurs, even larger than the T-Rex. However, despite its size and frightful appearance, Spinosaurus was not a super-predator.
Its anatomy led scientists to believe that Spinosaurus was an ichthyophagous animal, a fish eater. The head of Spinosaurus was too long and its structure was unsuitable to absorb the heavy stresses that derive from a fight with large and strong prey, like another dinosaur. The teeth were a little bent backward and weren’t serrated, which is typical to predators. Also, the arrangement of the teeth is proof of the fish-eating habits of this animal.
Scientific name: Diplodocus carnigeii
Dimensions: length 25 m, height 4.5 m, weight 15 tons.
Diplodocus was a Sauropod dinosaur that lived during the Upper Jurassic in places where fearsome predators such as Allosaurus and Torvosaurus were also present. It was one of the largest dinosaurs, with a very long whip-like tail consisting of 80 vertebrae. It was used as a defense weapon to defend itself against predators. Its tail, in fact, could be hurled at such high speeds that it unleashed high-frequency soundwaves which scared off the other dinosaurs.
The head of Diplodocus was very small compared to the gigantic body of the animal and had small leaf-shaped teeth, which protruded forward and were present only in the anterior sections of the jaws. It had small, narrow, sharp spines that ran along the neck, back, and perhaps even the tail, very similar to those of the iguanas.
Scientific name: Corythosaurus casuarius
Dimensions: length 9 m, height 2.5 m, weight, 2 tons.
The Corythosaurus was a medium-sized duck-billed dinosaur with a crest that looked like a dish at the top of his skull. It was hollow, like that of all Adrosaurs, was probably brightly colored and served as a sounding board to produce low-frequency sounds, which the Adrosaurs used to communicate.
Corythosaurus lived in large herds in the vast flood plains of the Cretaceous, similar to herds of antelopes. All the females of the herd nested in the same place then cared for the offspring in the area. It is thought that the herd was a collection of many “subgroups” of females, each led by a dominant male, who defended them from competing males. The fact that all Adrosaurs were able to communicate with their peers suggests a certain level of social interaction between the individuals in a pack.
Scientific name: Pteranodon longiceps
Dimensions: wingspan 6 meters, weight 20 kg.
Pteranodon was a flying reptile that lived during the Upper Cretaceous in the United States and Canada. As often happens with many other prehistoric animals, Pteranodon is confused with dinosaurs. In reality, it was a Pterosaur, which is a flying reptile and closely related to the dinosaurs.
Today we know that one of the most recurrent habits of Pteranodon and other Pterosaurs was to nest near the cliffs, but that they spent most of their life in flight, effectively exploiting ocean currents thanks to their enormous wings. The thick hair covering their body most likely helped protect them from the cold.
This flying reptile almost certainly fed only on fish, but some paleontologists think that it could even go inland looking for carcasses. Due to the delicate structure of their wings, however, they most certainly were not hunters.
So that’s it! I hope you and your little ones enjoyed this short but intense list of dinos. Some of them could be pretty scary, I’m sure. But the information I discovered during my research was really fascinating and I hope, for your children, inspirational. If you’d like to expand on this lesson with some more dino activities, have a look at this article too. It has some great ideas for continuing the dinosaur learning.