Dinosaurs have fast become a subject of curiosity for many (amateurs and professionals alike) in recent years. Our curiosity about these pre-historic creatures ranges from how did they move to how did they hunt and even whether they had emotions. One of the interesting questions to contemplate is can dinosaurs can jump similar to their modern-day relatives, birds, and reptiles.
So, can dinosaurs jump? There’s no definitive evidence about any dinosaur’s ability to jump. However, it is possible that some dinosaurs could have, owing to their specific anatomy that might have supported jumping such as well-developed leg muscles. Additionally, modern-day reptiles and large birds can jump.
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Can Dinosaurs Jump: About Dinos Anatomy
Generally, Dinosaur speed are estimated using their morphology (things like leg length, stride length, and estimated body mass) and fossilized trackways (which are rare for T. rex). Unlike old depictions, it held its tail erect, and did not drag it on the ground.
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Kangaroos and other animals that jumps (gerbils and kangaroo rats) have very specialised muscles and so on that rarely show up in fossils. On dinosaur bones we can see marks where the muscles attached to the bones, which gives us an idea of how they worked, but it is still difficult to work out how this might have affected how the dinosaur moved.
However, it’s doubtful that large dinosaurs (like T-Rex) could jump (think of modern-day large animals; they generally don’t jump). T-Rex walked on two legs, and may have been a relatively fast dinosaur. Its slim, pointed tail provided balance and quick turning while running.
Saltopus on the other hand, is one of the smaller species of dinosaurs. Saltopus walked on two legs and a relatively fast runner. It is very possible that Saltopus may have jumped or at least hopped owing to its physical anatomy. It had light, hollow bones, and a long head with dozens of small, sharp teeth.
Additionally, the velociraptor, a small carnivorous dinosaur, is said to be capable of jumping ten feet straight up into the air with the aid of its extremely strong leg muscles.
Interestingly, there is one set of footprints known that seems to show a theropod (one of the predatory dinosaurs) hopping. However, it is a single hop, and comes after a set of normal walking footprints. So, it appears that the hop the dinosaur made was unusual, rather than its normal way of moving. But at least we do know that some dinosaurs could hop, whether any of them normally moved by jumping is what paleontologists are yet to ascertain.
YouTube Video – Crested Gecko Jumping
Modern-Day Reptiles and Birds That Jump
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If we look to modern-day reptiles and birds, distant relatives to dinosaurs for whether dinosaurs could jump, we can find a few examples.
Alligators and crocodiles are known to have a burst of speed to launch forward and catch water birds or fish. They use their tail, their hind legs and are able to catch their prey with their huge jaws of teeth. One can imagine that a four-legged dinosaur may need to have the same speed to catch prey.
Additionally, large birds such as the emu and ostrich are able to jump considerably high. According to Wikipedia, the emu which lives in Australia are hunted by dingoes, a dog-like animal. Dingoes try to kill the emu by attacking the head. The emu typically tries to repel the dingo by jumping into the air and kicking or stamping the dingo on its way down. The emu jumps as the dingo barely has the capacity to jump high enough to threaten its neck, so a correctly timed leap to coincide with the dingo’s lunge can keep its head and neck out of danger.”
Ostriches which are kept in fenced pens by some farmers in South Africa or other countries in world are warned to build the fence at least 6 feet high as the ostriches can jump over lower fences.
So now let’s revert back to dinosaurs and see if we can find any clues to ability to jump by looking deeper at dinosaur anatomy.
Dinosaurs have skeletal features that are both unique and fascinating. They are comprised of a reduced fourth and fifth digits on their hands, three large toes and three or more vertebrae composing of the sacrum, fused vertebrae by the hip and a three-bone structure.
Significantly, this type of hip structure gives dinosaurs a posture that causes their legs to stick out of their bodies and not sprawl out from the sides as with other reptiles.
A lot of dinosaurs have similar bone structures to birds, which is why it is possible that some dinosaurs could have jumped or at least hopped.
When it comes to size, dinosaurs are one of the few species that have extreme variation. This wide gap in size is demonstrated for instance with the tiny hummingbirds, which weigh as little as 3 grams to the extinct titanosaurs that could weigh as much as 90 tonnes.
It is possible that we may never know all the smallest or largest dinosaurs that have existed on this planet. Scientists are only able to study a tiny fraction of fossilized dinosaurs that have been discovered. However, length estimates for dinosaurs are easily arrived at than weight estimates and this helps us get closer to answering the question – can dinosaurs jump?
There has been some debate, though, on whether or not the massive, short-armed theropods (like T.Rex, Giganotosaurus, Albertosaurus and Allosaurus) could run very fast because if they fell, their short arms would not break their fall and they would be badly injured (James Farlow, 1995). I wrote an article “How Would a T-Rex Get Up After Falling” which gives more details about this topic.
Dr. Bruce Rothschild, of the Arthritis Centre of Northeast Ohio, has found evidence of 14 fractured ribs in an Allosaurus that reflect healed injuries that were probably received in falls. These were most likely belly flops that happened while running.
What this indicates is that these large theropods were slow, lumbering animals and most likely couldn’t jump because of their weight. Many dinosaurs also had dew claws also called a hallux. Dewclaws are small, a functionless claw that didn’t hit the ground when the dinosaurs are running.
How Dinosaurs Moved
Dinosaurs usually walked on their toes; the scientific term for this is digitigrade. Other animals that are digitigrade include dogs, cat, and chickens. There is a pad of tissue on the back of the feet on these animals that acts like a shock absorber. People, bears, and crocodiles walk differently; they are plantigrade (flat-footed). Dinosaurs were slightly pigeon-toed; their toes pointed inwards.
Some dinosaurs moved around on four legs (these are called quadrupeds), and some on two legs (these are called bipeds). Others may have run on two legs but walked and grazed on all four legs. Some dinosaurs were slow moving and others were speedy, depending on their anatomy.
A few of the late, bird-like dinosaurs may have used their short, feathered arms to help speed up their running and perhaps glide from trees to the ground. Dinosaurs probably used their tails for balance while moving and some may have used their tails for quickly shifting their balance in quick turns.
Related Dinosaur Anatomy and T-Rex Articles You Might Also Be Interested In:
Would A T-Rex Really Shake The Ground?
How Much Would A Real Dinosaur Egg Be Worth
How Would A T-Rex Get Up After Falling?
Huge dinosaurs with short legs like Apatosaurus, Diplodocus, Brachiosurus and the other Sauropods were probably among the slowest of the dinosaurs.
The fastest dinosaurs were the bird-like, bipedal carnivores (theropods) with long, slim hind-limbs, and light bodies. These fast dinosaurs probably weren’t any faster than modern-day land animals. For example, Ornithomimus was a fast, agile dinosaur, probably running about as quickly as an ostrich which can run up to 43 mph (70 kph).
Velociraptor was also one of the fast-running, two-legged (bipedal) dinosaur. They may have been able to run up to roughly 40 mph (60 km/hr) for short bursts. Considering its anatomy, it is possible that Velociraptor could have also jumped.
How Scientists Calculate Dinosaur Speed
- Fossilized trackways: Palaeontologists can deduce approximate dinosaur speeds by using fossilized trackway and the dinosaur’s skeletal structure. When a good series of footprints are found, they show whether a dinosaur was walking, trotting, running, or wading.
The distance between prints is measured together with the size of the tracks. From this, rough speeds can be calculated.
- Skeletal Structure (morphology): After dinosaur skeletons are reconstructed from fossil remains, their leg length and estimated mass can be used to calculate their approximate maximum speeds This can be done by studying living animals whose bodies move in similar ways.
In 1976, the British zoologist R. McNeill Alexander used elephants, birds, people, and many other living animals to formulate an equation relating an animal’s speed, leg length, and stride length.
The gravitational constant is 9.8 m/sec2. Leg length is estimated using Alexander’s equations relating hip height to the length of the part of the foot that hits the ground. This is necessary because it is very difficult to determine which dinosaur made a set of tracks.
A significant breakthrough was the Ichnotaxa (fossil footprints). The Ichnotaxa Fossil footprints have yielded information about dinosaurs’‘ locomotion, speed and length of stride, whether they walked on two or four legs, foot structure, and how the tail is carried (no tail tracks have been found, so tails were probably held erect).
What Can Fossilized Dinosaur Footprints Tell You?
Footprints can tell you a lot about the dinosaur that made them. Some of the information you might get from a fossilized dinosaur footprint are:
- The dinosaur’s foot structure (like how many toes it had, which toes supported most of the weight if there were pads on the feet, and if the dinosaur was flat-footed or not).
- How the Dinosaur walked (did they walk on two legs or four?).
- How fast the dinosaur moved (This can be determined by looking at the distance between the prints and the leg length).
How Did Scientists Know What Dinosaurs Looked Like?
Generally, scientists can really say for sure what a particular dinosaur looked like precisely. But there are some lines of evidence in the fossil record, and from studies of modern animals that help in projecting what these prehistoric animals may have looked like and how they moved, even whether they jumped or not.
By putting it all together, scientists can now come up with a projection. This process is like a detective working to solve a difficult murder case. When you see a color painting, or an animation, of a dinosaur as a living animal, this has been based on a series of steps in reconstruction:
- The skeleton is rebuilt from the bones that are extracted from the rock.
- The muscles can be laid on with some confidence, since each end of the muscle is fixed into the bone, and marks may be seen on the fossil bones.
- Other soft parts, like the guts, eyeballs, tongue, and so on can be added partly by guesswork, and comparison with living animals.
- The skin texture may be reconstructed precisely since impressions of dinosaur skin have been fossilized. There are even a few rare cases of organic preservation of dinosaur skin.
- The color, however, is entirely guesswork. Was Tyrannosaurus blue with yellow spots, or maybe you like red stripes? Colors are based on modern animals and a bit of inspired imagination by scientists and artists.
What could be more frightening than a dinosaur in full attack mode, jumping at you? It’s awesome to consider what these dinosaurs could do millions of years ago and although we will never know for certain if they could jump, if they were anything like their bird and reptile relatives, we should probably run faster!
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