Let’s be honest, who doesn’t love dinosaurs? Ask any five-year-old about their favourite dinosaurs, and they’ll happily talk for hours about how cool they are. Somehow, that awe dwindles as we get older. We think that’s a shame, and to help remedy the situation, we put together this short dinosaur chart and guide as a reminder of just how fascinating dinosaurs can be.
Let’s begin with a humbling look at the age of the dinosaur.
Dinosaurs lived for a stretch of 180 million years from about 245 million years ago until 66 million years ago, give or take a few hundred thousand years. To put that in perspective, modern humans have only existed in our current biological state for around 300,000 years! The entirety of modern human existence is a rounding error compared to how long dinosaurs ruled the Earth.
One hundred eighty million years is a pretty long time, which means that not every species of dinosaur lived simultaneously. Popular culture has misled us into believing that many dinosaur species lived at the same time and in the same place, but that isn’t true.
Movies like Jurassic Park and The Land Before Time make it natural to assume that the Tyrannosaurus rex and Stegosaurus regularly butted heads, for example — spoiler: they didn’t. The truth is that the Stegosaurus was extinct for almost 80 million years before the Tyrannosaurus ever existed.
Here’s a list of when some of our favourite dinosaurs lived in millions of years ago (MYA).
Notice the abrupt cutoff at 66 million years ago. The current understanding is that an apocalyptic asteroid impact coupled with rising oceans and climate change caused dinosaurs to go extinct alarmingly quickly.
Similar to how different dinosaur species lived during different epochs, they also lived in different places. The world is big, and dinosaurs had limited range, often sticking to fairly small geographic locations confined to a single continent. Many dinosaur names come from the continent where their fossils are found.
Speaking of continents, the world 250 million years ago didn’t look like the world we know today. Rather than the familiar picture of the seven continents we’re used to, the continents were arranged in a single large landmass called Pangea from about 335 MYA until around 175 MYA. Continental drift caused the continents to slowly rearrange themselves over hundreds of millions of years, settling into the current formation long before recorded history.
This continental shuffling poses a challenge for describing dinosaur habitats. The common practice is to describe a dinosaur’s habitat based on the current geographical site. This doesn’t work well in some cases since far-flung present-day places — like Africa and South America — were once next-door neighbors. Still, it’s the easiest way to talk about where a dinosaur lived, and it’s fun to know which dinosaurs roamed in your country in search of food.
Here are some of everyone’s favourite dinosaurs organized into where they lived in terms of modern-day countries and continents.
It’s somewhat surprising how much we know about dinosaurs since they went extinct so long ago. Paleontologists search for and rely on fossils to determine a dinosaurs’ range. A fossil’s location isn’t the only factor used to determine a dinosaur’s habitat, but it is the most important.
Finding a fossil in a particular location guarantees that the species existed where the fossil was found. Combining that specific site with supplementary information about what they likely ate and their skeletal structure help scientists refine their estimate of the range.
In ancient times, dinosaur bones inspired stories about mythic beasts and horrifying monsters. Early humans were simply not equipped with the knowledge and technology needed to understand what they were seeing. Modern paleontology has come a long way, and scientists now use an impressive array of advanced techniques and computer analysis to learn stunning details about dinosaurs.
Biomechanics has always been a staple of dinosaur research and forms the foundation of our understanding of how each dinosaur looked. When we search for bones and put them together based on the anatomy of other animals, it allows us to construct the impressive skeletons you can find in museums around the world.
Scientists can also learn a lot about a dinosaur from secondary sources, like preserved footprints. A footprint holds more information than it appears to at first glance. Sure, it tells the paleontologists the foot’s shape, but they can also use it to estimate a dinosaur’s height and possibly weight. Indirect evidence like this is essential to supplement relatively scarce physical evidence like bones.
Perhaps most impressive is how paleontologists leverage modern technology like medical scans and modeling software to learn details about how dinosaurs were put together and how they moved. CT scans let researchers peer into the interior structure of fossils, making them essential tools for studying fossils without destroying them.
Engineering modeling software also helps scientists reconstruct realistic 3D models of dinosaurs, complete with accurate biomechanics and movement. Thanks to these technological advances and modern computing, we now know more about dinosaurs’ appearance than previously thought possible.
If you have even a passing interest in dinosaurs — or a young child — you may have heard that dinosaurs probably had feathers. This may come as a surprise to anyone who grew up watching Jurassic Park, but it’s true. The current picture is that the earliest dinosaurs probably didn’t have feathers, but the later ones did. That means that Tyrannosaurus rex probably looked more like a big bird than a giant lizard as it walked around in search of food. We’re sorry if that shatters any childhood memories; we had to for science!