Here’s the first indicator that we’re entering hardcore waters: this list only covers true dinosaurs and no other prehistoric life. Sorry, Diplocaulus – you get an honorable mention for nobody knowing what your boomerang head was for, but amphibians, pterosaurs, synapsids (like Dimetrodon) and all the various seafaring reptiles are not allowed on this list. Let’s get to digging.
Hadrosaurs, AKA duck-billed dinosaurs, are almost a whole family of weird. First, that ridiculous-looking flat bill is really millions of teeth. You also have headgear galore to pick from: Lambeosaurus, Corythosaurus, and especially Parasaurolophus (that’s Duckie from Land Before Time) all have distinctive crests of questionable function. Possibly the weirdest, however, is Tsintaosaurus – AKA the “unicorn dinosaur.”
Here’s a question: what’s the good in being a unicorn, Tsintaosaurus? We’re pretty sure, now, that Parasaurolophus made noise with its horn, so what’s your excuse?Was it used to attract mates? Did you spar with it? Did it help you find others of your kind? Some people think that we don’t have the whole thing; until we know for sure, this is all speculation.
People thought this dinosaur had to be some sort of accident when they found it. If you unearthed a prehistoric unicorn, you’d be pretty shocked, too.
With a name meaning “meat-eating bull,” Carnotaurus already sounds pretty hardcore. It is so named because of the small, forward-pointing horns on its skull. As in T-rex, the fingered forelimbs are barely there, and the hind limbs are lithe enough to suggest that Carnotaurus ran its prey down. Like many of the coolest dinosaurs, it lived in the Late Cretaceous and has been found in South America.
Along with scale indentations on the bones, the sides of Carnotaurus were also marked with rougher, bony bumps called “osteoderms.” Between these bumps and the horns, it is theorized that these dinosaurs fought amongst themselves. Place your bets on Carnotaurus death matches today!
That said, Carnotaurus has had a little bit of limelight in Disney’s Dinosaur, as well as smaller cameos elsewhere. When you look this edgy, people just can’t stay away!
A close relative of Carnotaurus, Majungasaurus was native to modern-day Madagascar, a land already known for a decent bit of weird. Let’s start with the skull: Majungasaurus had a dome on its snout and a single horn on the top of its skull. That’s a little strange, but there’s more to this dinosaur than just the head.
If you thought this particular group of therapods couldn’t get weirder, Majungasaurus was a confirmed cannibal. While we can speculate that other dinosaurs ate their own kind, Majungasaurus fossils have been found with other Majungasaurus bones inside. The only other dinosaur that ate its own kind is Tyrannosaurus rex!
Most dinosaur-lovers probably know a bit about Archeopteryx already. For those that don’t, here’s the skinny: Archeopteryx was a small, crow-sized dinosaur with distinctly avian feathers on its wings and tail. It is often cited as a missing link between dinosaurs and modern-day birds. Now that we know, there are plenty of feathered dinosaurs known to science, including Microraptor gui.
Microraptor has some of the most intriguing plumage found on any dinosaur. Archeopteryx had feathers on its arms and tail, but Microraptor had it beat by having feathers on its legs. These weren’t just any feathers, either – they were fully-formed wings!
Studies have been done on how, or if, Microraptor could actually fly. It really depends on how well Microraptor could do the splits: if it could spread its legs out like those of a flying squirrel, its gliding surface would be huge. If it couldn’t, however, those wings would do little more than provide drag in the air. So, according to science, those extra wings didn’t do Microraptor much good.
Those of you who have seen Jurassic Park probably remember the awe-inspiring size (and sneeze) of the Brachiosaurus. Sauropods were the real giants of the dinosaurs, with the largest being Supersaurus (33-34 meters). So, how do you take a giant among giants, and make it both weirder and cooler? By fusing it with a stegosaur, of course!
Amargasaurus was a relatively small (9-10 meter long) sauropod found in modern-day Argentina. Stature aside, the thing that stands out most are two parallel rows of spikes, or perhaps a sail, running all the way down its neck. Given this herbivore’s relatively small size, it’s possible that these spikes were used for defense. They could also have been used for auditory signaling, a mating display, or thermoregulation. Biting into this long neck would be like trying to eat a porcupine!
We’ve had a lot of strange herbivores this article. It’s amazing that more ceratopsians aren’t on this list. Triceratops is nice, but the moment you get into things like Styracosaurus and Pachyrhinosaurus, you realize how crazy herbivore head frills can get. Bear in mind that we still don’t really know what any of these were used for; the horns could be defensive, a signal to others of the species, used to attract mates or some combination of the above. Some ceratopsian skulls would make only questionably good shields.
Chasmosaurus falls squarely into the “what was this frill for?” category. It was first found in Canada and was from the Late Cretaceous. The dinosaur is so named for the giant openings (“chasms”) in its frill. This frill doesn’t offer much protection, so what was it for? Was Chasmosaurus much faster than its sturdier brethren, thus warranting a lighter frill? The best theories so far are mating displays and thermoregulation. The defense was definitely not this three-horns strong suit, so those are as good of guesses as any.
Therizinosaurus is something of a cult favorite; for a long time, only hardcore paleo people knew it existed. Because we only had fragments of its skeleton, it w***as hard to figure out what animal they belonged to. For ages, the claws we had were thought to belong to a turtle, thus the full name: Therizinosaurus cheloniformis.
Now we know Therizinosaurus was a browsing herbivore that walked on two legs and sported a long neck like a sauropod. Like Microraptor, it was probably feathered. Therizinosaurus was an herbivore related to things like T-Rex and Velociraptor, just to ice the cake of weird.
By far, however, the weirdest thing about the Therizinosaurus is its hands. The claws of Therizinosaurus were among the first parts discovered. As more information came out, Therizinosaurus earned its name of “scythe lizard” – a reference to its massive claws, which can get up to 2 feet in length! That’s the longest claw of any animal to date. If you could design a dinosaur, how much cooler would a giant carnivore be with half-meter claws?
(By the way, Googling “Therizinosaurus” will lead to many pages about a “tickle chicken” in a dinosaur-taming game called ARK: Survival Evolved. If you like dinosaurs and video games, it might be worth a look.)
What could be weirder than an herbivore that is almost a literal Edward Scissorhands? Try a dinosaur that has spawned conspiracy theories.
At first glance, Troodon looks less intimidating than the Velociraptors from Jurassic Park. It’s small – roughly 2 meters. Like the raptors, Troodon had sickle claws. It also had serrated teeth that may suggest an omnivorous diet, rather than these dinosaurs being just meat-eaters. It had binocular vision, and huge eyes, so we know it was hunting something – possibly in a cold, dark climate.
The biggest thing that stands out about Troodon, at least to paleontologists, is its brain size. There’s a certain ratio that lets one determine how intelligent a creature is. According to the measurements, Troodon may have been as smart as a chicken, which is miles above other dinosaurs. (Side-note: every video game that has a Troodon will acknowledge that these guys were dinosaur geniuses, relative though that may be.)
Given its intelligence and adaptations, a rather interesting crop of theories has sprung up around Troodon. There are some theorists – not just bloggers, but paleontologists – who speculate on what might have happened if Troodon had survived the K-T extinction event. Had Troodon kept going on its path, it may have evolved into a reptilian-humanoid – a “reptoid,” if you will.
Allow me to summarize the varieties of craziness that surround reptoids. If we want to be scientific and speculate that Troodon may have lived, the reptoids probably shun human contact, preferring remote areas such as unexplored rainforests or underground places such as caves. Others say that the K-T event was a cover-up and that reptoids not only lived but walk among us disguised as humans. Take these ideas as you will.
In other words, the weirdest dinosaur isn’t the one with the bony skin, huge claws, or impressive frill, but the one that is most like us. If any reptoids are reading this, please be kind to the human species. Revealing yourselves as dinosaurs would only make us love you more.