Technology Did the Dilophosaurus really look like the one in...

Did the Dilophosaurus really look like the one in Jurassic Park?


In the film Jurassic Park, the dilophosaurus is presented as a small dinosaur using its venom to immobilize its prey. In reality, the predator was very different.

Surely the dilophosaurus is no stranger to you. Many remember him in the film Jurassic Park (1993). We then see him deploy a large collar around his neck in order to make himself threatening to poor Dennis Nedry, who then tries to sabotage the park. The animal then spits its thick and viscous venom in his face in order to immobilize it to better devour it.

Note that in the eponymous novel by Michael Crichton, published in 1990, the dilophosaurus is described larger (about three meters high). Its size has been reduced in the film so that the viewer does not confuse it with the velociraptor.

A still unrecognized dinosaur

Despite its fame on the screen, researchers knew very little about the physique of this evolving dinosaur 183 million years ago, at the beginning of the Jurassic. At least so far. A recent analysis of several fossils allows us to better understand it, adding a little clarity to the first research file detailing the discovery of the first fossil of Dilophosaurus in 1954.

This fossil had indeed been partially reconstructed with plaster, but the document published at the time remains somewhat confused.

We were describing a rather slender dinosaur, not very tall, with small jaws and sporting two crests at the top of its skull. A description that may have influenced the representation of Dilophosaurus in the novel and the film Jurassic Park. Note, however, that neither the venom nor the rim have a foundation from a fossil point of view.

These new works, published in the Journal of Paleontology, however, detail a different animal.

The study is based in particular on the examination of five of the most complete specimens found to date. All were found in the Kayenta formation, in Arizona (United States). In this sample, two specimens discovered in the 1980s had never been subjected to extensive analysis.

This work was directed by Adam Marsh as part of his doctorate at the Jackson School of Geosciences in Austin. He is now the main paleontologist in the National Park of Petrified Forest (Arizona). The analysis is also co-written by Timothy Rowe, who discovered the two specimens not previously studied.

A right hind leg of a dilophosaur preserved in the Texas Vertebrate Paleontology Collections at the University of Texas at Austin. Credits: Matthew Brown / UT Austin Jackson School of Geosciences

A more massive dinosaur than imagined

On the basis of this new work, the researchers then evoke a skull serving as a scaffold for strong jaw muscles.

It was also found that some of the bones of this dinosaur were composed of air pockets. These bags, also found in its cranium and in its two crests, are not specific to Dilophosaurus.

Indeed, the most massive dinosaurs also presented this type of structure. It is this development that has enabled them to reach larger sizes without being paralyzed by their own weight. Note that modern birds also develop this type of air pockets in their bones, again for the sake of lightness (to be able to fly).

An interpretation of a Dilophosaurus artist based on the latest research. Credits: Brian Engh / The Saint George Dinosaur Discovery Site.

Thus, these new details go against the image of the dinosaur perceived as slender and fragile promoted so far in scientific literature and popular culture. ” Dilophosaurus was clearly designed to be a macro-predator ”, assure Adam Marsh.

The dilophosaurus was ultimately an animal of imposing size – about six meters long for 750 kilos – capable of attacking large prey. We know in particular that Sarahsaurus, a long necked sauropod the size of an SUV, shared its environment with him. It is therefore possible that this animal was on the menu of dilophosaurs.


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