Scientists have discovered and named over 1,000 dinosaur species, and among all these species are the best known dinosaurs. There is something unique and exciting about each one of them. Let’s take a closer look at these 13 popular dinosaurs and why they are so well-known.
What Are the 13 Best Known Dinosaurs?
So, what are the 13 best known dinosaurs? The are: Triceratops, Iguanodon, Nodosaurus, Stegosaurus, Spinosaurus, Tyrannosaurus Rex, Diplodicus, Brachiosaurus, Brontosaurus, Mosasaurus, Plesiosaurus, Pterodactyl, and Archaeopteryx.
Let’s first take a look at a wider view of best known dinosaurs. In the world of dinosaurs, Tyrannosaurus Rex holds the crown for its unparalleled size and predatory inclinations. Trailing behind in renown, yet still quite prominent, is the Velociraptor, known to be smaller in reality than its cinematic depictions. Exhibiting three distinguishing horns and an impressive head frill, Triceratops also occupies a high rank in the dino hall of fame. Towering even among its colossal brethren, the Brachiosaurus stands out for its incredible height and elongated neck.
Marked by a row of diamond-shaped plates lining its back, the Stegosaurus carves its unique identity. Meanwhile, Pterodactyl, the prehistoric pioneer of flight, basks in its one-of-a-kind attributes. Not far behind is the Spinosaurus, whose sail-like protrusions on its back and menacing size make it one of the largest carnivorous dinosaurs.
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Venturing into herbivore territory, Ankylosaurus is notable for its armored body and its unique weapon – a clubbed tail. The Apatosaurus, also known as the Brontosaurus, is remarkable for its large size and long, whip-like tail. Another prominent herbivore, the Iguanodon ticks the box for being distinctive due to its thumb spikes. Finally, the Allosaurus is often considered T. Rex’s Jurassic counterpart on account of their similar body structure.
The Parasaurolophus deserves a mention for its large cranial crest, potentially useful for communication or thermoregulation. The Diplodocus, Iguanodon, Deinonychus, Pachycephalosaurus, Carnotaurus, Coelophysis, Archaeopteryx, Compsognathus, and Gigantosaurus all held unique characteristics, making them noteworthy entries in the gallery of well-known dinosaurs.
When it comes to a dinosaur being most loved or popular by the public, a lot of this has to do with exposure from the media and from entertainment movies. Some of the dinosaurs from cartoons or Jurassic Park have become loved by children, and then they, in turn, continue to learn about the dinosaurs as they grow into adults.
For example, take the Triceratops. It is well known in the scientific community, with its three horns and frill (a type of shield) that protects its body. The Triceratops has found its way into movies, documentaries, and cartoons, often fighting the aggressive carnivore (an Allosaurus or T-Rex). It is one of the dinosaurs that is most loved by children.
Why is it that some dinosaurs are not only well-known but also most loved by people? It’s a combination of elements and factors that make this possible. A dinosaur may be well-known because it is a significant scientific discovery, which advanced paleontology knowledge within the scientific community. On the other hand, it may be because it is the largest or most unique of the species. Now let’s dive into those 13 best-known dinosaurs mentioned above, and some of the reasons why. Keep on reading!
Groupings for the Best Known Dinosaurs
To cover those 13 dinosaurs, I have arranged and grouped them accordingly:
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The Plant Eating Dinosaurs
The most striking feature of the Triceratops has to be its broad skull. It had the broadest skull of all land animals, which covered about a third of the Triceratops’s total length.
The Triceratops is one of the best-known dinosaurs that were plant-eating and also armored. It is best-known because of the distinctive three horns and frill (the shield covering the body), which is clear from the triceratops skull discovered. It’s also a most-loved dinosaur as it is depicted in many movies and documentaries.
The term Triceratops means “head with three horns.” These dinosaurs existed during the Cretaceous era close to 68 million years ago. Scientists believe that this species constituted the main prey for the T.Rex.
Most paleontologists believe that this dinosaur measured up to 10 meters long and a height of about four meters. Most specimens discovered in North America suggest that the reptile might have weighed between five and ten tons.
The dinosaur is easily recognizable given the presence of three horns, with one above the muzzle and the other two distributed above the eyes. The horns measured about one meter in length. The Triceratops’ skin is another fascinating topic because many scientists believe that it was covered with hair.
The Iguanodon is among the best-known dinosaurs because it was the second species to be classed scientifically as a dinosaur.
The Iguanodon was a giant plant-eating dinosaur that existed about 100 million years ago. The creature lived in a large area that encompasses what we currently refer to as Europe, North America, North Africa, and Asia.
This species was the most popular and widespread dinosaur of the iguanodontids.
The creature was about nine meters long and weighed close to five tons. Scientists believe that the animal spent most of its time grazing and moving on all four limbs even though it could walk on twos.
Many fossil skeletons of the Iguanodon have been found with the thumb in the shape of a sharp spike. Scientists speculate that the thumb could have been used as a weapon against predators.
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The Armored Dinosaurs
The Nodosaurus is a type of Ankylosaur that has armor, spikes, and plates to deter predators. The best-known nodosaur fossil was found in Canada by miners. It is an amazing fossil, which shows full details of armor and spikes. It is because of this discovery that the Nodosaurus is one of the best-known dinosaurs.
The Nodosaurus was a plant-eating dinosaur. The main differences between a Nodosaur and an Ankylosaur were in details of the armor. A Nodosaur, which means “knobbed lizard,” did not have a large club at the end of its tail as the Ankylosaur did. It also didn’t have plate-like spikes on the sides of its head.
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The Nodosaur had a fine set of armored spikes and plates on its body, and the recent study of the Canadian Nodosaur indicates that it had ginger-colored shadings on its body.
Armored dinosaurs like the Nodosaur are unique because they give some insight into how plant-eating dinosaurs were able to fend off predators. Not only that, the discovery that the Canadian Nodosaur had ginger colors indicate that armor wasn’t enough to keep carnivores at bay, but they used camouflage as well.
Stegosaurus means “roofed lizard.” Paleontologists named it in this way because they first had the idea that the dinosaurs’ plates were positioned flat on its back, similar to shingles on the roof of a house. Current day thinking is that the plates stood upright across the dinosaurs’ back.
The Stegosaurs is among the best-known dinosaurs for the idea that the dinosaur had two brains, one in its head and the other near the beginning of the tail. The fossil bone hunter Othniel Charles Marsh suggested that because at the end of the spinal cord, there was a large space (between the hips), it could have been possible that there was a second brain to help coordinate the tail.
Current paleontological thinking is that this is entirely false, the Stegosaurus had only one brain, and the extra space in the spinal cord had a different purpose.
The tail of the Stegosaurs had four large spikes, which served as a weapon against predators.
The Stegosaurus is also known for its portrayed for its battle against predators, namely the Allosaurus. As the Stegosaurus lived in the late Jurassic Period, a common misconception is that Stegosaurus battled the Tyrannosaurus Rex. That’s not possible because the T-Rex lived in a different time period (the Cretaceous). So, the battle is correctly an Allosaurus against a Stegosaurus.
The Best-Known Dinosaurs That Are Carnivores
Arguably, the Spinosaurus was the largest of all meat-eating dinosaurs, even larger than the Giganotosaurus and Tyrannosaurus, and it is best-known for this attribute.
It is believed that this species lived during the Cretaceous Period, more than 100 million years ago. It roamed the area now referred to as North Africa. Currently, scientists have named two Spinosaurus species based on where their fossils were discovered: the Spinosaurus Aegyptiacus and the Spinosaurus Moraccanus.
Most paleontologists suggest that the Spinosaurus is the largest carnivorous dinosaur ever. It is, however, unclear just how big it was due to incomplete fossils. In 2005, researchers estimated that the dinosaur was about 59 feet long and weighed about 10 tons.
Fossil estimates also suggest that the animal’s long trunk and neck shifted the dinosaur’s mass towards the front. It ensured that the animal could move quickly in water, but it rendered movement on land impossible unless the dinosaur walked on all four limbs.
As one of the best-known dinosaurs, it is believed to have survived mostly on fish and sharks that lived along with its river system. Other than anatomical evidence, detailed chemical analyses by researchers also claim that the Spinosaurus preferred to prey on fish.
However, in 2004, researchers discovered a tooth belonging to a dinosaur in the Spinosaurus family that had the remains of a pterosaur embedded in it. This discovery suggested that the fish-loving animal also hunted on non-aquatic animals.
Possibly the best-known dinosaur is the T-Rex. The dinosaur’s North American heritage and early discovery may explain its position as not only among the best-known dinosaurs but also the most famous dinosaur being portrayed in many Hollywood movies and documentaries.
The Tyrannosaurus family, of which the most popular species is the T.Rex, was the last dinosaur species to appear on earth about 80 million years ago. The carnivorous theropods lived on the planet for a short time, but they brought about a significant effect on how we understand dinosaurs. It is because more specimens exist from this species more than any other that lived.
Bones from about thirty of them, including a few near-complete fossils, have been discovered in North America and no other place on earth. Scientists believe that the dinosaur might have weighed up to six tons. It was, additionally, around 13 meters long, and it had a powerful tail that made this bipedal dinosaur stable.
Full-grown adults, which lived up to 28 years, are believed to have been able to run at a speed of 25mph. It suggests that smaller Tyrannosaurids, which were not limited by their large body sizes, could run faster than their adult relatives.
Most depictions of the T.Rex imply that it had weak forelimbs. However, they were still about 10 centimeters longer than an average human’s arms. Additionally, the forelimbs were quite strong, with two long fingers at the end of the limb. Since it could not reach its mouth using these forelimbs, the hands were used mainly for grappling with food rather than for feeding.
Standing at about four meters high and 13 meters from tail to head, the best-preserved and most complete T.Rex discovered yet resides in Chicago at the Field Museum. Its name is Sue, and its bones are now a permanent characteristic of the museum. Despite what the name implies, experts do not know whether Sue, who was discovered in South Dakota, is female or male.
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Best-Known Dinosaurs That Were Long-Necked
The best-known dinosaurs that were Sauropods were also well-known because of size and incredibly long neck. They are most-loved because, in movies, they are portrayed as the plant-eating, calm and gentle giant. Scientifically, the long-neck dinosaurs have created excitement in the community as more fossil discoveries are made around the world.
The Diplodocus is the longest dinosaur discovered from a near-complete fossil skeleton.
It is believed that the Diplodocus dinosaur had a long neck used to reach both low and high vegetation. Scientists still debate over how the reptile managed to hold such a long neck. Paleontologists now believe that ligaments that ran from the back of the neck to the hip would have enabled the reptile to hold its neck well enough without using muscles. The backbone is split down the middle, and this space was used to hold ligaments like this. Scientists also believe that the reptile had narrow, pointed spines lining its back.
A cast of the dinosaur’s skeleton was donated by Andrew Carnegie, in 1905, to the Natural History Museum. The cast was based on the specimen fossilized at the Carnegie Museum in the United States.
King Edward requested a copy of the dinosaur after seeing a picture of the reptile in Carnegie’s Scottish castle. From 1979 to 2017, the cast, which was commonly known as Dippy, was displayed in the Natural History Museum Hintze Hall.
In 1993, the museum decided to lift Dippy’s tail from the ground after scientific research showed that the reptile’s tail was raised high to balance the size of the neck.
This dinosaur species is a star, featuring in many movies like Jurassic Park. It is also one of the largest land animals to have ever lived.
This dinosaur belongs to the Sarichians group. The reptile roamed the earth between the middle of the Cretaceous period and the end of the Jurassic era: close to about 145 million years ago.
The Brachiosaurus measured about 26 feet long and 12 feet high. Its weight oscillated between 30 and 50 tons. Additionally, it had a long neck that consisted of 12 vertebrae of 70 centimeters each. The animal’s neck has led to many heated arguments between paleontologists, many of whom argue that such neck sizes would not be sustainable. The Brachiosaurus’ neck was unusually long even by sauropod’s standards.
The Brachiosaurus is a sauropod dinosaur that existed during the Late Jurassic, close to 153 million years ago. Its fossils were first discovered in the United States by Elmer Riggs in 1903. This dinosaur is approximated to have been 21 meters long and weighed about 58 tons.
The dinosaur, additionally, had large air sacs in the trunk and neck. These sacs invaded the ribs and vertebrae by bone resorption, thus significantly minimizing the reptile’s overall body density. The reptile’s neck stood at a slight S-Curve, with the upper and lower sections slightly bent and a seemingly straight middle section. The overall body physique of the Brachiosaurus resembled a giraffe more than other living animals. In contrast, other sauropods had a longer hindlimb than forelimb.
Throughout the20th century, most scientists believe that all sauropods, like the Brachiosaurus, were too big to support their weight on land. Therefore, they lived partly in the water. However, modern paleontologists have claimed that Brachiosaurus dinosaurs might have been well adapted to live a fully terrestrial lifestyle given their high chest, slender limbs, wide hips, and a short tail. The reptile’s body was fit for movement on land.
The Brontosaurus is a best-known and popular dinosaur. However, there have been some confusing changes in recent years with its name and classification.
The scientific name of a Brontosaurus, which is from the Greek and means “thunder lizard”. It was changed to Apatosaurus which is closer to the scientific classification in which the Brontosaurus falls under. (Source Wikipedia). Then, in an interesting turn, the scientific community decided that it was actually a separate species and reinstated the name and classification of Brontosaurus. So they are back.
Interestingly, in my childhood and many others, the Brontosaurus was one of the first dinosaurs to learn about, due to its popularity in books, cartoons and movies.
The Brontosaurs was a plant-eating dinosaur which, like other Sauropods, had a long neck and tail and thick torso. It lived in the mid-to-late Jurassic and was estimated to weigh as much as 17 tons and length-wise could reach 72 feet.
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Water Dinosaurs – Dinosaurs That Lived in the Ocean, Sea or River
While technically, the dinosaurs that lived in the oceans, seas, and rivers were not dinosaurs – they are more related to reptiles and classified differently – nevertheless, they lived in the Mesozoic Era and are commonly called dinosaurs by the public.
The Mosasaurus was the largest sea dinosaur ever to exist. Also, it is quite famous since it is a standard centerpiece in most museums. It is best-known also for having been in the Jurassic World movie.
The name Mosaurus is coined from Latin and Greek. “Mosa” means the “Meuse river” from Latin and “Sauros,” which is a Greek word for a lizard. This sea dinosaur lived during the late Cretaceous period, about 70 million years ago. Its distinguishing features include an alligator-like head, a hydrodynamic build, and a fin on its tail. The dinosaur was massive, weighing about 15 tons and around 50 feet long. The creature lived on a diet of squid, shellfish, and fish.
The fossil bones of a Mosasaurus dinosaur were discovered before the educated class knew anything about dinosaurs, marine reptiles, and evolution. The unearthing of these bones led naturalists to speculate about the possibility of particular species going extinct. These fossils were interpreted to belong to whales, fish, and crocodiles. The closest guess was that the bones belonged to a giant monitor lizard.
It was George Cuvier who claimed that the fossils belonged to a giant family of sea reptiles called mosasaurs. These creatures were characterized by powerful jaws, large heads, rear flippers, hydrodynamic front, and streamlined bodies.
The Mosasaurs were related to the Plesiosaurs and Pliosaurs that had preceded them. Modern-day biologists believe that they were related to lizards and snakes. These creatures went into extinction about 65 million years ago, along with their Pterosaur and dinosaur relatives. Anyway, by this time, they were already succumbing to stiff competition from the well-adapted sharks.
This dinosaur species is an icon of the dinosaur age, probably because they had the longest necks of all marine reptiles.
The Plesiosaurus is a member of the family Plesiosaurs. This family of marine reptiles was characterized by their broad flippers, sleek bodies, and small heads set at the very end of their long necks. These reptiles were described as resembling a snake threaded through a turtle. It was, however, later established that they did not have shells and that they were distantly related to Testudines (reptiles with shells). It is among one of the best-known dinosaurs also because it has an eery resemblance to what was rumored to be seen as the Loch Ness Monster.
The Plesiosaurus was related to Pliosaurs: Pliosaurs are modern marine reptiles that are characterized by thick torsos, longer heads, and short necks. Like other marine reptiles, the Plesiosaurus dinosaur might have evolved from different sea reptiles.
Plesiosaurs dinosaurs were not the best swimmers given that they did not have the necessary hydrodynamic build as compared to their more prominent and streamlined relatives: the pliosaurs.
To this date, it is still not clear whether the plesiosaurus dinosaur lumbered onto land to lay eggs or give birth to their young ones while in water. However, we do know that the Plesiosaurs all went into extinction along with the other dinosaurs about 65 million years ago.
The heyday of this dinosaur was during the middle Mesozoic Era. By the end of this era, these marine creatures had been supplanted by vicious Mosasaurs, which later on succumbed to the mass extinction around 65 million years ago.
This big fish template applies throughout evolution. Scientists have made arguments that the Mosasaurs went extinct partly because of the ever-increasing dominance and diversity of sharks: the best-adapted marine predator ever evolved by Mother Nature.
Technically, again, flying dinosaurs were not dinosaurs but instead more closely related to birds or reptiles. As they lived during the Mesozoic Era, many groups of animals are connected as dinosaurs by the public. Let’s take a look at the most popular ones.
The Pterodactyl species were the first reptile-like animals to fly. They were also the largest species that ever flew. They are among the best-known dinosaurs that fly.
The Pterodactyl was a type of flying reptile. It lived during the Late Jurassic era and resided in what is now called Europe and Africa. It is best known as the animals portrayed in movies and documentaries.
In art, the dinosaur is portrayed with bat-like wings with stretched membranes between the fingers. Additionally, it is mostly depicted with a crest on its head, even though there is still some debate on whether the crest was present in the Pterodactyl like in other Pterosaurs.
Most of the fossil specimens belonging to Pterodactyls have been approximated to be the same size as modern large birds such as eagles and hawks. These findings suggest that the dinosaur was significantly smaller than other dinosaurs.
The Archeopteryx is best-known in the scientific field. Scientists believe that the Archaeopteryx was a transitional fossil between modern birds and dinosaurs. It is considered to be the earliest bird, given its blend of reptilian and avian features.
Archaeopteryx is a combination of two Greek words: “archaic,” meaning ancient and “pteryx,” meaning wing or feather. The species lived about 140 million years ago in what is now called Germany.
At that time, the whole of Europe was an archipelago, and it was quite close to the equator with latitudes similar to Florida. These conditions provided the species with a reasonably warm climate.
Paleontologists believe that the creature weighed about 2.2 lbs, and it was the size of modern-day ravens. Moreover, it had broad wings and a tail that seemed long for its body length. Different fossil specimens of the dinosaur show that it had tail and flight feathers.
Interestingly, most fossil specimens found thus far lack and indications that the reptile had feathers on the head and the upper neck. However, based on the wings, most scientists believe that the Archaeopteryx had aerodynamic capabilities.
Not much has been discovered relating to what the creature ate. However, it might have been a carnivore, and it may have fed on small amphibians, mammals, insects, and reptiles. It likely seized small prey using its jaws, and it used its claws to pin larger prey.
There is something unique and special about every dinosaur species. Many who follow dinosaur discoveries from childhood into adulthood continue to be fascinated by the new theories and knowledge being added to the already existing fossils. Thanks to Hollywood entertainment and scientific documentaries, we get to see more of the dinosaurs we love depicted and practically come to life before our eyes.
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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).