Did you know you could very well be living in an environment once inhabited by dinosaurs? It’s true! While the land was very different millions of years ago compared to today’s, the earth that dinosaurs roamed are still the one we call home in the 21st century.
What Are The Different Dinosaur Habitats?
So what are the different dinosaur habitats? Dinosaurs lived in the following habitats, especially during the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous periods:
● Desert plains
● Mixed forests
● Coniferous forests
● Coastal and Islands
● Riparian forests
During the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous periods, prehistoric creatures – dinosaurs – roamed Earth. These periods, etched into Earth’s history, demonstrated diverse climates and vegetation, resulting in varied dinosaur habitats.
Dinosaur species were divided by dietary habits: Carnivorous dinosaurs thrived where prey was abundant, while leafy regions catered to herbivorous dinosaurs. Omnivorous dinosaurs, flexible in diet, adapted to multiple habitats.
Paleontologists rely on fossil evidence to map out these prehistoric habitats. The field intertwines with geology, examining fossils locked inside igneous rocks and sedimentary formations like the Yixian and Morrison formations. Within these ancient rocks, the remains of dinosaurs yield stories of a long-gone food chain.
Table of Contents
This food chain, crucial to understanding survival tactics, highlighted dominant species in each habitat. Over the Triassic to Cretaceous periods, these survival tactics evolved, sculpting the dinosaur era. Yet the dominant dinosaurs could not escape extinction, believed to be spurred by a catastrophic meteor impact.
The meteor impact abruptly altered climate and vegetation patterns, leaving dinosaurs unfit to survive. Lastly, the Earth’s geography, specifically its supercontinents such as Pangea and Gondwana, influenced dinosaur habitats. These supercontinents supported a variety of dinosaur species, each acclimatizing to their respective environments.
Let’s discuss each of these nine environments in more detail and share where these dinosaur-dwelling habitats may be located today. All along, we’ll drop lots of surprising, interesting facts about the habitats and the dinosaurs that lived there. You’re definitely not going to want to miss it!
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During the Mesozoic Era, some dinosaurs during this lengthy era (which lasted for 79 million years) called the desert plains home in the Cretaceous period.
The environment of these plains was very much encompassing, spanning large swaths of land. The vegetation included prehistoric plants and some ferns, as the different grass species had not evolved to the point where it grew rapidly.
The earliest dinosaurs lived during the Triassic and were the ancestors of many well-known dinosaurs in the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. The earth was much hotter during the Triassic, and although there was vegetation, it could be sparsely covered in the plains and could be considered an open habitat.
The windy, dry environment of these desert plains didn’t deter herbivorous creatures such as the Edmontosaurus and the Triceratops from living here.
The Edmontosaurus stood nearly 10 feet tall and up to 43 feet long in adulthood. Also, when fully-grown, this hadrosaurid could weigh up to 7,700 pounds. A hadrosaurid, by the way, means the dinosaur has a duckbill. If you are interested in knowing more about duck billed Hadrosaurid dinosaurs, check out my article here .
The Edmontosaurus annectens had a flat head as well as the trademark duckbill. Remains were found in what has since become North America.
YouTube Video About Deserts
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The other Edmontosaurus species, the Edmontosaurus regalis, featured combed crests. It was the biggest of the hadrosaurids, weighing about four metric tons.
The Edmontosaurus regalis may have also liked coastal plains outside the desert plains (see this habitat below). Remains of the dinosaur attribute its location to today’s western North America.
A classic and well-known dinosaur, the Triceratops, has also remained unearthed in North America parts, suggesting this may have been home to the desert plains during the Cretaceous period.
The Triceratops could weigh as much as 13.2 tons and grow to lengths of 29.5 feet in adulthood. Tyrannosaurus Rex likely fed on Triceratops or tried to, as their rhino-like horn could ward off even large dinosaurs.
A third species of dinosaur that may have inhabited the desert plains is the Gallimimus, a theropod with remains found in the Gobi Desert in Central Asia. It brings up the idea that the Cretaceous period’s desert plains may have extended from North America to Central Asia. That would make these plains utterly huge!
The Gallimimus was a theropod (so it had three toes on each foot and hollow bones) that grew to 20 feet in adulthood and heights of over 6 feet. Their long necks suggested this species ate ground prey, making the Gallimimus an omnivore. It also had lengthy hind legs adept for traversing the plains.
Also, during the Cretaceous period, mountainous dinosaurs emerged. Based on fossils’ location, it’s estimated that most dinosaurs who called the mountains home during this era lived lower in the mountains rather than higher.
The natural surroundings of mountain landscapes included conifers and vegetation, depending on the period. Vegetation in the mountainous areas of the Jurassic was more sparse than in the Cretaceous period.
What the vegetation was like in mountainous regions during the Cretaceous period is anyone’s guess, but it is believed that the Edmontonia may have lived there. This dinosaur species belongs in the same family as the Ankylosaurus, as the Edmontonia was also coated in armor and spikes.
This dinosaur comes from Edmonton, Canada, home of the Horseshoe Canyon Formation, where the Edomontonia’s remains were located. It’s unclear if the Edmontonia lived among the rocks of this mountainous region or if its skeleton was transferred there by time and weather.
The Edmontonia may have done well in these mountainous regions considering it survived on low-lying plants, including cycads and ferns, that would have been accessible around the mountain’s base.
More flowering plant species began appearing during the Cretaceous period. These changes gave way to greater areas of mixed forest, which included deciduous and coniferous forests. We’ll discuss coniferous forests and the dinosaurs who lived there a little later, but what is deciduous forest?
The temperate deciduous forest includes seasonal deciduous trees that shed leaves in the autumn and then grow them back in the spring. Thus, regions that had four distinguishable seasons would have been home to deciduous forests.
The cool thing about dinosaurs feeding in mixed forest environments was that they would eat plants off the ground and those in the trees. The plant species in mixed forests eventually evolved to ensure their survival, so they were not easily reached.
So what kinds of dinosaurs called mixed forests home? One that we’re pretty sure lived in mixed forests is the Corythosaurus, a hadrosaurid with a name that translates to “helmet lizard.” Besides its duck-billed status, the Corythosaurus was also a lambeosaurine or crested hadrosaurid among the likes of the Hypacrosaurus and the Nipponosaurus.
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YouTube Video on Different Types of Forests
The Corythosaurus is believed to have lived in what is now modern North America based on the location of its remains. That means there’s a possibility the mixed forests were maybe not all that far removed from the desert plains during the Cretaceous period.
In 1911, a man named Barnum Brown came upon a holotype of the Corythosaurus, which means it was a specimen that was practically wholly intact. Without some of the forelimbs and the tail, we didn’t get the complete picture of this dinosaur species, but a very good one nonetheless.
What we know is that the Corythosaurus’ crests were tall and shaped like polygons. Like many other dinosaur species we’ve discussed so far, the Corythosaurus ate plants and was an herbivore. Considering it lived in a forest, this makes sense.
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Swampland, and by extension, swamp forests, were also known dinosaur habitats. In the Cretaceous period, swamps were typically located in the area’s continents and would get quite hot and humid. Only trees that could survive lots of moisture thrived here, so swamp cypresses were common. Bodies of water hosted fish, which would attract certain dinosaur species. (Source)
One such species is the Spinosaurus or spine lizard. This spinosaurid lived in what North Africa is today. The swamps then were nowhere near the mixed forests and desert plains in the Cretaceous period.
One species of Spinosaurus, the S. maroccanus, was uncovered in Morocco, while the S. aegyptiacus was found in Egypt.
The Spinosaurus earned its name due to its many tall neural spines that grew from its backbone. Each spine extended up at least 5.4 feet. This dinosaur also weighed about 20.9 tons at most and could grow to lengths of 59 feet.
It was absolutely huge then, even more so than the Tyrannosaurus Rex. The head of a Spinosaurus was equally massive, with a narrow, long snout similar to a crocodile.
Also likely inhabiting the swamp forests was the Lambeosaurus or Lambe’s lizard, a hadrosaurid with a hatchet-like crest, which was also hollow. The Lambeosaurus is a dear relative of the Corythosaurus, interestingly.
Like the Spinosaurus, the Lambeosaurus also ate plants. Its oral grinding motion was an early form of mammalian chewing, even if this dinosaur relied on just a few of its teeth despite that it had hundreds.
Floodplain is an area next to a river or stream that often floods during the season changes. It means that the area is dry or dry during some parts of you than during the flooding. Because the land is flat, when the seasonal rains, the rivers, and streams overflowed over the lands.
The Brachiosaurus was a long neck sauropod that lived in floodplains that may have also been semi-arid. It lived in the Jurassic period. The Brachiosaurus was one of the tallest sauropods reaching heights of up to 69 feet (21 m).
The majority of the fossils have been found in North America. However, some incomplete skeletons that are related to Brachiosaurus have been found in Europe and Africa.
Initially, paleontologists thought that this dinosaur spent the majority of its time in the water. However, as fossil evidence became clearer and they were able to study them more with advanced techniques, it is now suggested that it is more of a land-dwelling dinosaur and spent most of its time on land instead of the water.
Brachiosaurus would like this Jurassic floodplains habitat because it was flat for the most part, and there was a lot of water.
Another dinosaur that most likely lived in floodplains was the Parasaurolophus. It was a duck billed dinosaur, a hadrosaurid, with a hollow crest on its skull. These dinosaurs are suggested to have been living in herds where they could protect themselves from predators and nest together and take care of their young.
An interesting thing about the head crest that the Parasaurolophus had was that it was used for communication. Paleontologists suggest that it could have made a noise like a horn because the head crest was hollow. These dinosaurs lived during the late Cretaceous period.
The Parasaurolophus would have thrived in the floodplains because it was close to water, and as they were herbivores and grazing dinosaurs, it would be a perfect stomping ground for their herds. It is suggested that the seasonal flooding would not have bothered their herds.
Earlier, we talked about deciduous forests as part of mixed forests, including coniferous forests. Temperate coniferous forests also experience seasonal shifts, typically quite cold winters and hotter summers.
Here is a brief summary of the information detailed above, presented in a table format for easy comprehension. This table contains detailed information about the coniferous forests, the Jurassic period, and the Mamenchisaurus.
|Coniferous Forests||Jurassic Period||Mamenchisaurus||Description|
|Coniferous Forest Types||Timeline||Physical Characteristics||These forests are diverse, with some having broadleaf evergreen trees, others having needle leaf trees, and some even containing both types of trees.|
|Jurassic Climate||Geographical Changes||Diet||This era occurred after the Triassic period and before the Cretaceous period, lasting 56 million years. It was a time when Pangea was breaking down, creating rift valleys and shallow seas, especially near the lowlands.|
|Habitat||Vegetation||Height||This dinosaur is believed to have lived in the coniferous forests of the Jurassic period. It was a sauropod with an incredibly long neck that may have had as many as 14 vertebrae or even more. The environment of these forests was damp and warm, which supported the growth of various vegetation, including podocarps, cypresses, and monkey puzzles.|
|Jurassic Climate Impact||Climate Impact on Geography||Speculations||The warm and damp climate during this period led to a lot of vegetation growth. These changes allowed the areas that were once desert to become reachable by shallow waters.|
|Mamenchisaurus Size||Discovery Location||The Mamenchisaurus stood at tall heights of 49 feet, allowing it to eat any vegetation it found around the Jurassic period’s coniferous forests. Some experts even believe this dinosaur could have been 115 feet tall.|
|Discovery||The remains of the first Mamenchisaurus were discovered in what we know today as China.|
Coastal and Island
Another habitat which is common all over the world are the coastal and island habitats. When land ends and seas or oceans begin, it is a coast. If you consider an island surrounded by ocean, you can understand that there can be many miles or kilometers of coastal coastline.
Some specific habitats common with coastal areas and islands are sandy beaches, rocky shores, sand dunes, low and high cliff areas, and salt marshes.
One dinosaur that lived in coastal areas and lived during the early Cretaceous was the Acrocanthosaurus or “high-spined lizard.” This dinosaur was a carnivore, and its fossil remains of this theropod dinosaur have been found in Canada and the USA.
Although they didn’t live only in coastal areas, they were predators and would hunt hadrosaurs and sauropods.
Interestingly paleontologists have found skeletons of a small dinosaur named Compsognathus. These dinosaurs lived in coastal areas because marine fish, crustaceans, and other coastal animals have been found close to the dinosaur fossils.
The Compsognathus was a small theropod dinosaur that lived in the Late Jurassic. It was considered small compared to other dinosaurs being only 3 feet (1 m) in length, and they have found others have been smaller and slightly larger. One of the mysteries that remains is whether this dinosaur had feathers.
The Comsognathus was a carnivore. Interestingly, they have found fossilized lizards preserved in the stomach of these dinosaurs. Together with the marine animals, as mentioned, it is considered one of the fastest dinosaur predators.
Yet another type of forest that dinosaurs lived in during the Jurassic period was riparian forests. Growing close to a marsh, bay, river, stream, reservoir, sink, or pond, riparian forests maintain sediment for the body of water nearby, although they often get flooded. The vegetation and trees that grow here tend to become large and full. (Source)
In the Mesozoic Era grew a riparian forest that survived into the Jurassic period. Located in Jurassic North American, this forest still exists today as the Morrison Formation between Colorado and Wyoming.
The Morrison Formation also features panhandles across Idaho, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas and outcrops near Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Montana.
The Stegosaurus may have lived in the riparian forests of the day. This herbivorous dinosaur has had remains found in Portugal and the western US as well as the Morrison Formation, especially that formation’s upper areas.
It’s believed the Ceratosaurus and the Allosaurus may have tried to feed on the Stegosaurus, but that it otherwise coexisted with the Brachiosaurus, Diplodocus, and Apatosaurus. Benefitting the Stegosaurus in survival was its spiky tail and tall, sizable plates that stood upright, although the plates may have been for thermoregulation and display more than anything else.
The Allosaurus, another riparian forest resident, is carnivorous, explaining why it would try to eat the Stegosaurus but not vice-versa. This theropod’s name translates to “different lizard” due to its vertebrae’s shape, which is concave and thought to be unique at the time.
The Allosaurus’ serrated teeth made feasting upon prey easy, as did its impressive size of 32 feet long and 39 feet tall. The hindlimbs could propel the Allosaurus through the riparian forest, and its tail was quite muscular too.
The Diplodocus was more common in today’s mid-western North America, and it lived as the Jurassic period was coming to a close. Many remains of the Diplodocus have been attributed to the Morrison Formation.
It’s simple enough to tell the Diplodocus apart from other dinosaurs, as it has a very long tail and an even longer neck. This species may have weighed as much as 14.8 metric tons with an overall length of 79 feet. The Diplodocus hallorum could have been even bigger, with an average length of 171 feet.
The Diplodocus’ teeth featured a cross-section and elliptical for each crown as well as pointed apexes. Despite its more-than-able teeth, the Diplodocus ate plants.
Another dinosaur habitat is scrublands or shrublands, which include geophytes, herbs, grasses, and shrubs. Perhaps induced by fire, most scrubland vegetation will germinate in the heat of a fire. These plants also tend to produce more seeds than necessary to ensure survival.
In the Jurassic period, the scrublands didn’t have much water, so plants had to be resistant to drought and fire. The Plateosaurus may have lived in the scrublands of the time. Its name means “broad lizard,” not “flat lizard,” and this plateosaurid is also considered a prosauropod.
That means it lived in the late Triassic period and longer in areas that are known as Asia, Africa, and Europe today.
The Plateosaurus featured hands that could grasp, strong arms and hindlimbs, and teeth that could easily break down the pulp in plants. Its neck was also quite long and very flexible, although the Plateosaurus has nothing on the Diplodocus in terms of neck length.
The last dinosaur habitat we’ll discuss today is the riversides of the Jurassic period. These areas near flowing water bodies weren’t quite the same as riparian forests, as the water was shallow and ferns grew here instead of such varied vegetation. Horsetails would emerge from reedbeds, and thickets of vegetation abounded.
One dinosaur species that may have lived in the Jurassic riversides is the Herrerasaurus or Hererra’s lizard. First discovered in 1958, the Herrerasaurus could have lived in South America, specifically the Ischigualasto Formation in northwest Argentina, created during the Late Triassic period.
More fossils would help make classifying the Herrerasaurus easier, as experts aren’t quite sure if this species of dinosaur is a saurischian, sauropodomorph, or a basal theropod. What we do know is that the Herrerasaurus could run quickly due to its sizable feet and powerful thighs.
The Herrerasaurus would eat animals instead of the conifer trees and ferns it lived amongst. It may have consumed smaller dinosaur species like thecodont (socket toothed) reptiles and rhynchosaurs, reptiles that share some similarities to alligators or crocodiles length.
During the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods especially lived a slew of dinosaurs in environments like riversides, scrublands, forests, swamps, mountains, and desert plains. Many of these dinosaurs were herbivores, but some were carnivores that would hunt other dinosaurs in their respective areas.
Now that you’ve learned about all the cool places where dinosaur remains have been found, you can appreciate more about where you live, knowing it has a rich history.
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With over 5 years dedicated to exploring the world of dinosaurs, Michael is a key voice on adventuredinosaurs.com. He holds a BBA, and an MSc in Economics, and is currently enrolled in a certificate paleontological studies at the University of Alberta, Canada. His professional journey, including roles at Nokia and Amino Communications, is complemented by a deep-rooted passion for paleontology. This enthusiasm is further fueled by visits to global Natural History Museums and an ambition to join renowned paleontological digs.
While Michael actively engages with paleontologists and aspires for collaborations, his writings on adventuredinosaurs.com stand as a testament to his commitment, blending business insights with a profound appreciation for the ancient world. He has been fascinated with dinosaurs since childhood and is fortunate enough to have visited fossil museums in Europe (UK, Germany, and Spain), the US (California, Texas), and Asia (China).