Dinosaurs were prehistoric reptiles that roamed the Earth millions of years ago. They have big and complicated names – almost as big as they were! Scientists developed a naming system to help organize all the different dinosaur fossils they found all over the world. By knowing a dinosaur’s full name, you can actually learn a lot about it. Here’s a helpful guide to some dinosaur names for kids.
Scientific classifications help us keep everything straight. Every known plant or animal is categorized according to their species. The names are often Greek or Latin in origin, and they help describe something specific about the species – what it looked like, who discovered it, or where it was found.
Dinosaurs are scientifically organized by their size, when and where they lived, and what they ate. Because dinosaurs became extinct millions of years ago, everything we know about them comes from their fossilized remains. As we develop new tools and ways to examine these fossils, we continue learning more about these majestic creatures every day. (source)
Traditional biological classification looks like this: Domain, Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species. Dinosaurs are classified as reptiles because they were believed to be cold-blooded and laid eggs to reproduce. All dinosaurs are classified under the Orders of Saurischia and Ornithischia (within the reptile subclass Archosauria).
There are many subcategories and branches to each dinosaur’s family tree, but here are some common ways they are organized:
“Saurischia” translates to “lizard-hipped” in Greek. Saurischian dinosaurs generally have pelvises that resemble modern-day lizards. In the order Saurischia, you’ll find two different types of dinosaurs: carnivores (Theropods) and large herbivores (Sauropods). (source)
Theropods are bipedal (walking on two feet) flesh-eating dinosaurs that can range in size from quite small to very large. (source) Common theropods include:
This “tyrant lizard king” stands slightly upright and can reach the length of the average school bus from nose to tail. It weighed more than an elephant, and had a head full of sharp teeth to shred its prey. They had small arms that ended in two-fingered hands, and the fossils of these apex predators have mostly been discovered in North America. (source)
A superstar in Jurassic World, the “different lizard” Allosaurus had vertebrae that contained shallow cavities, making them lighter than bones from other dinosaurs. They grew to be about the size of a T. rex, and the biggest specimen found so far probably weighed more than 3,300 pounds. (source)
These “speedy little thieves” were fast, furious, and deadly predators that lived 85 – 70 million years ago. Contrary to how they are portrayed in Hollywood, Velociraptors were actually quite small – closer to the size of a turkey. Their fossils are normally found in Mongolia and northern China. (source)
Sauropods are large herbivores with long necks, and they roamed the Earth on four feet instead of two. Common Sauropods include:
This “deceptive lizard” is the dinosaur formerly (and currently, depending on who’s asking) known as the Brontosaurus. When the fossil was discovered in 1877, the skeleton was incomplete. It was later thought that the long-necked fossil remains belonged to two distinct dinosaurs, rather than just one. Regardless of the controversy, the Apatosaurus is believed to be one of the biggest land animals that ever lived, reaching nearly 75 feet long and weighing nearly 20 tons. (source)
The Brachiosaurus (or “arm lizard”) had extra long front legs that were longer than its back legs. It was likely warm-blooded, and its body could reach 100.8 degrees Fahrenheit. They lived 155 – 150 million years ago, and were at one time believed to be the biggest dinosaurs that ever lived – weighing in at 62 tons! (source)
The Diplodocus was a herd animal, and its name means “double-beamed lizard” in Greek. They lived in the late Jurassic along with the likes of the Steogsaurus and Allosaurus. They had the longest neck of any dinosaur, and it could reach almost 20 feet long. (source)
Dinosaurs classified under the order Ornithischia have “bird-hips” – their pelvises resemble those of modern-day birds, rather than lizards. However, the dinosaurs that more closely resemble birds are actually therapods – which are not “bird-hipped” at all. Within Ornithischia are many different subcategories as well. Here are some examples:
Stegosaurs (the Stegosaurus is the most popular of the group) were slow moving dinosaurs with tiny brains and big plates protruding from their backs. They were armed with sharp spikes on the end of their tails to ward off predators, and they ate mostly low-growing vegetation. (source)
The armored Anklyosaurus was protected from predators by oval plates made of bone – similar armor is seen today on crocodiles and armadillos. With a thick club on the ends of their tails and the addition of rows of spikes, these dinosaurs were tough and rugged – and quite difficult to kill. (source)
The mighty Triceratops is so named for the three impressive horns on its head (tri = three, or “three-horned face”. Scientists figured out later that the Triceratops likely has two full horns – and a third bump on its snout made mostly from keratin. Their heads were enormous, and they lived in the marshlands and forests of North America around the same time as the T. rex. (source)
Want to Learn More About Dinosaurs?
Fossil Hunter Lottie loves learning all about these wondrous reptiles as she hunts for fossils. Learn to identify fossils with this activity here, or learn how to dig for miniature fossils of your own here. Isn’t learning about dinosaurs fun? Happy fossil hunting!
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