10 dinosaur facts that will blow your kid's mind

These surprising secrets will delight dino-obsessed children.

Published 26 Apr 2022, 09:48 BST
Boy With Dinosaur - Mind-blowing Dino Facts
A kid looks at a dinosaur at the Jurassic Quest Drive Thru during a media preview at the Rose Bowl, in Pasadena, California, July 23, 2021.
Photograph by VALERIE MACON / AFP via Getty Images

Your kids might already know that Tyrannosaurus rex could gulp nearly fifty kilos of meat in one bite or that Brachiosaurus would be able to peek through the windows of a four-storey building. But with about 700 described species so far, there’s a lot they don’t know—and a lot that will shock them.

Palaeontologist and Nat Geo Explorer Steve Brusatte became obsessed with dinosaurs as a kid when he realised that actual dino discoveries contradicted what he had seen in outdated books. “The dinosaurs they were finding and describing at the time were so different from the dinos that were in all the tired old books in the library,” Brusatte says. “And we’re finding out even more information right now.”

Show kids that there’s always more to learn by revealing these 10 shocking dino secrets—and make yourself look like a genius in the meantime.

Baby Tyrannosaurs were probably really cute. Kids likely know that this dino king stomped and chomped its way through what’s now western North America. But a Tyrannosaurus rex hatchling? Unexpectedly adorable, according to recreations from the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

No bigger than a skinny turkey with a superlong tail, the duckling-like T. rex baby would’ve hatched covered in a layer of fuzzy, downy feathers. As it grew, the older, not-so-cute teenage dino would gain almost five pounds a day, eventually topping out around 40 feet long at age 20.

Baby T. rexes likely had an adorable layer of fuzzy feathers.
Photograph by R. Peterson / © AMNH

Many adult dinos were feathered, too. Toss out the idea that all dinos were covered in scaly skin—those recreations might be like drawing a tiger without its fur. “A lot of dinosaurs had feathers,” Brusatte says. “Some species used them for display—sticking out their arms to attract mates or intimidate rivals.”

The largest known fully feathered dino—a 30-foot-long T. rex cousin called Yutyrannus hualilikely used its feathers to keep warm. But other species had flight feathers. These early birds were the only dinosaurs to survive the asteroid that killed the rest of these animals 66 million years ago. That finch in your back garden? Turns out it’s a T. rex cousin, too.

Archaeopteryx is one of the earliest birdlike dinosaurs.
Photograph by Illustration by Franco Tempesta

They were colourful. Most pictures kids see of dinosaurs depict them as grey or brown reptiles. But new research techniques in the last few decades have revealed a colourful prehistoric world. For instance, a turkey-size dino called Sinosauropteryx likely had an orange-and-white striped tail. And experts think a dinosaur named Caihong juji  might’ve had rainbow-coloured, iridescent, shiny feathers on its neck and chest.

To figure this out, scientists examined the remains of a part of a cell that once contained melanin, the same pigment that gives humans our hair, eye, and skin colour. “We never thought we’d be able to learn what colours the dinosaurs really were,” Brusatte says.

Sinosauropteryx had a striped tail.
Photograph by Illustration by StockTreck Images / National Geographic Image Collection

You drink the same water as dinosaurs. Water on Earth arrived billions of years ago—perhaps as ice on meteorites that slammed into the still-forming planet. And the water molecules have been evaporating, condensing into clouds, and precipitating in a cycle ever since. That means your kids are drinking the same water that the dinos did.

Some dinosaurs were tiny. Your kids might assume that all dinosaurs were as big as a lorry. But one of the smaller known dinos, Microraptor, was little enough to hold in an adult’s hands. Weighing about two pounds, this compact carnivore had flight feathers on both its front and rear legs, likely allowing it to glide from branch to branch.

Microraptor was about the size of a crow.
Photograph by Illustration by Franco Tempesta

They sometimes got the sniffles. Can your kid imagine snot dripping from gigantic nostrils and hacking coughs shaking a superlong neck? In 2022, palaeontologists found the first evidence of a non-avian dinosaur with a respiratory illness. The scientists made the discovery based on broccoli-shaped growths in the hollows of the dino’s fossilised neck bones similar to those in living birds and reptiles. “Having details like this makes these dinosaurs relatable,” Brusatte says. “It helps us see them as not just petrified bones but as actual animals that lived.”

A respiratory disease infecting a sauropod dinosaur nicknamed Dolly would have likely produced symptoms such as coughing, labored breathing, nasal discharge, fever, and weight loss.
Photograph by Illustration by Woodruff et al. (2022) and Corbin Rainbolt

These giant reptiles were snugglersAround 70 million years ago, three young oviraptorosaurs died close by, leaving their fossilised skeletons huddling together. Palaeontologists suggest that might be the first example of dinosaurs roosting together—like modern crows and bats—for protection or warmth. And one 2020 report theorises that this dinosaur brooded its own eggs. “They were taking care of their eggs,” says Louise Bodt, a biology and palaeontology educator at the American Museum of Natural History. “That really brings them to life for me.”

Some dinos moved like human babies. Humans are the only animals known to transition from walking on all fours to two legs—except dinosaurs. According to a 2019 paper, a 450g hatchling dinosaur called Mussaurus patagonicus likely walked on all fours. As it grew—eventually weighing over a ton—its tail became heavy enough to allow the animal to balance on two legs.

Mussaurus switched from walking on all fours as a youngster to walking on its rear legs in adulthood.
Photograph by Graphic Illustration by Davide Bonadonna

When T. rex roamed, Stegosaurus was already a fossil. “Some people have this misconception that all dinosaurs lived together at the same time in a prehistoric tropical paradise,” Brusatte says. But for about 180 million years, dinosaur species emerged and went extinct at different times. “When T. Rex was living, every Brontosaurus and Stegosaurus that ever lived were already fossils underneath its feet,” Brusatte says.

We haven’t found all the dinosaurs. “Somebody is finding a new dinosaur species on average once a week,” Brusette says. “And we’re finding more right now than we ever have before.” As new dino species emerge, scientists are also debating things we assume about fossils in museums. Like, is the most famous T. rex fossil, Sue, not really a T. rex after all? “That’s what’s so cool about science,” Bodt says. “It’s what we know up until now, but it’s always changing as we get new evidence.”

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