Top ten amazing dinosaur facts

Dinosaur at the Natural History Museum

© The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London

    • Dinosaurs are some of our favourite things to see in museums. There's far more to them than just the bones you see on display. Scientists are studying dinosaurs all the time and discovering lots of new things from the fossils. 

      A good place to start, with fact files on hundreds of dinosaurs is the Natural History Museum’s Dino Directory.

      Now, on to our facts...

      Who came up with the word 'dinosaur'?

      We use it without thinking, but before 1842 the word didn’t exist! Experts think that the first person to use 'dinosaur' officially was Sir Richard Owen, the founder of the Natural History Museum. You can find out more about him on the Natural History Museum’s website.

      Who digs up dinosaurs?

      A person who studies dinosaurs is called a palaeontologist. They don’t just study dinosaurs but all forms of life that existed before the Holocene Epoch, which began nearly 12,000 years ago. Palaeontologists have to learn a lot of different techniques in order to learn more about how life evolved.

      Mary Anning was an early fossil hunter who looked for long-gone dinosaurs in Lyme Regis, on England's south coast in the 1800s, the Wellcome Collection has a letter she wrote, which you can read on Show Me.

      In this video from the Field Museum in Chicago you can see some the equipment palaeontologists use.

      Who found the first dinosaur fossil?

      People have been finding fossils for thousands of years, but when massive bones were first found it was thought they belonged to monsters. The first dinosaur found that was identified as a dinosaur was the Megalosaurus in 1824. It was discovered by William Buckland, a professor of geology at Oxford University. You can find out more about it at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

      What is the longest dinosaur name?

      Most dinosaurs have pretty long names but the longest we’ve found is the Micropachycephalosaurus, (pronounced MY-cro-PACK-ee-SEFF-ah-low-SORE-us) which means 'tiny thick-headed lizard'. Dong Zhiming, one of China’s leading palaeontologists coined this impressive name.

      If you want to know how to pronounce other dinosaur names,The American Museum of Natural History has also produced a video about how to say the names of pterosaurs such as Jeholopterus or Quetzalcoatlus.

      What’s the oldest dinosaur that has been found?

      The Nyasasaurus parringtoni (pronounced Ny-as-a-SOR-us pah-ring-toe-nee) is thought to have lived around 240 million years ago. Scientists know very little about it as so far they have only found an upper arm and some back bones to prove its existence – it may not even be a true dinosaur but a very close cousin.You can see a picture of its upper arm bone on the Natural History Museum’s website.

      What’s the most complete dinosaur skeleton ever found?

      One of the most complete skeletons ever found was a Tyrannosaurus rex called Sue, named after Sue Hendrickson, the palaeontologist who discovered her. As well as being the best preserved T. rex ever found, she is also the most expensive dinosaur fossil ever bought. The Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago paid a massive $8.36 million for her in 1998!

      A fossilised skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus rex in the Field Museum in Chicago.Sue the T rex© Connie Ma (own work), CC BY-SA 2.0, via Flickr
      Can we use dinosaur fossils to make new dinosaurs?

      You might be disappointed to know that growing new dinosaurs is not as easy as some films or TV shows would have you believe. Most of our evidence of dinosaurs comes from bones which have been fossilised, a process which replaces living tissue in animal bones with minerals. To clone dinosaurs scientists need DNA, which is found in soft tissue – the same stuff that fossilisation destroys. Scientists may discover a way to create new dinosaurs in the future, but we are a long way off creating a real life Jurassic Park.

      To learn more about fossils, check out this interactive game from My Learning.

      Were dinosaurs clever?

      This rather depends on your idea of clever. One of the most intelligent dinosaurs was the Troodon. It was only about 2 metres long and had a brain size similar to that of a mammal or bird today. At three times the size of the Troodon, the Stegosaurus was probably the dumbest dinosaur as its brain was only the size of a walnut.

      How do we know that the Troodon was the smartest dinosaur? Check out the Natural History Museum's Dino Directory on the Troodon to find out more. 

      Are all dinosaurs extinct?

      Yes – and no. Although nearly all dinosaurs were wiped out in a mass extinction 66 million years ago, many palaeontologists believe that some small feathered dinosaurs survived and later evolved into modern-day birds. Scientists even use bird movements and behaviours to help them explain how dinosaurs may have acted.

      If you want to investigate further why the dinosaurs became extinct, this interactive website from Manchester Museum may help answer some of your questions.

      Were humans around during the time of the dinosaur?

      No, dinosaurs and humans only exist together in cartoons, books and movies. Compared to the dinosaurs, humans have only existed for a tiny period of time; fossils of our earliest ancestors are only about 6 million years old, whereas the dinosaurs died out 66 million years ago.

      This timeline from Dinosaur Isle shows you the history of the Earth – can you see when the dinosaurs died out and people began?

      Did all dinosaurs eat meat?

      Dinosaurs were hugely varied creatures. Some, like the terrifying Tyrannosaurus rex were carnivores (meat eaters) but others like the giant sauropods were herbivores (plant eaters). Like all living things, dinosaurs had to adapt to survive on what was available where they lived, so it’s not surprising that they ate a huge variety of different things – including other dinosaurs.

      In this game from the National Museums Scotland you can transform your dinosaur – including changing its diet - to help it adapt to different conditions.

      If you want to go and visit them, here's our guide to our ten favourite dinosaur-y museums!

      Bonus link: The Smithsonian in the USA has put together a list of the Top ten misconceptions about dinosaurs - why don’t you check it out?
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