Dinosaur Facts: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Sarah Caughron

Sarah has a master's degree in Applied Anthropology/Archaeology and has worked in formal and informal education since 2006.

Movies like ''Jurassic Park'' and ''The Good Dinosaur'' show the Hollywood version of a day in the life of a dinosaur. How can you tell fact from fiction? This lesson will teach you about dinosaurs, how they are classified, and the existence of dinosaurs today!

What is a Dinosaur?

A dinosaur is a type of ancient reptile that lived millions of years ago all over the world. Dinosaurs lived on land. They did not fly or swim. This means that a pterodactyl and a mosasaur are not dinosaurs, but they are ancient flying and swimming reptiles.

Dinosaurs ranged in size from as small as a chicken, like the Compsognathus, to as long as a 737 airplane, like the Diplodocus. Dinosaurs varied in shape as well. Most dinosaurs had scales similar to a modern snake or lizard, but some dinosaurs had feathers like a bird. Other dinosaurs were plated with armor, and some had horns, spikes, or bony plates on their head.

Allosaurus skull
Allosaurus skull in field jacket

Generally, dinosaurs fall into one of two categories based on the shape of their hips: bird-hipped or lizard-hipped. Bird-hipped dinosaurs included the Triceratops and Stegosaurus. Another name for bird-hipped is ornithischian, and this distinction is made because the pubis bone in the hip points down toward the tail of the dinosaur. Examples of lizard-hipped dinosaurs include Velociraptor and Tyrannosaurus rex. Lizard-hipped is also known as saurischian, and the pubis bone points down and slightly forward.

What did Dinosaurs Eat?

Dinosaurs could be carnivores, meaning they ate meat, or herbivores, which ate plants. One way to decide for yourself what type of diet a dinosaur had is to examine a dinosaur's tooth shape. Dinosaurs with sharp, pointed teeth, like the Tyrannosaurus rex, ate meat, while dinosaurs with long, flat teeth, like the Triceratops, ate plants.

Artistic rendering of a Triceratops

How Do We Learn About Dinosaurs?

A scientist that studies dinosaurs is called a paleontologist. Paleontologists learn about dinosaurs by studying fossils, preserved remains of a once-living organisms including insects, plants, or animals (like dinosaurs!). Essentially, the process of fossilization turns bone into stone. A lot of the work a paleontologist does is piecing tiny fossils together to figure out what a dinosaur looked like. This is similar to working a puzzle except often the paleontologist doesn't know what the end picture will look like! This takes an incredible amount of time and patience, but the reward of learning something new about the prehistoric past is exciting to scientists.

Paleontologists at work.
Paleontologists at work.

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