The sci-fi thriller Jurassic Park came to define the look and feel of dinosaurs for an entire generation. In many ways, the adventure about a theme park of genetically engineered dinosaurs tried harder to get the science right than any other dinosaur movie in history. For instance, they showed the Tyrannosaurus Rex standing parallel to the ground instead of upright. On the other hand, it still got a lot of facts wrong. Here are some of the most common misconceptions.

1. The Dinosaurs All Lived in the Jurassic Period - Jurassic Park is a feast for the eyes with Tyrannosaurus Rex, Triceratops, and Velociraptor Stegosaurus, all in good old Jurassic Park. It looked cool, but caused a problem with the name. In reality, these dinosaurs all lived in the Cretaceous Era. I guess Cretaceous Park didn't have the same ring to it.

2. Dinosaurs Had Reptilian Skin - The skin of all the dinosaurs in JP are mostly pebbly and leathery in shades of green or brown. This idea is a holdover from when people thought of dinosaurs as just overgrown lizards. In reality, scientists now believe most dinosaurs had vibrant colors on their skin, and feathers. Yes, feathers. They've found a startling number of fossils with clear imprints of quill knobs, the point where feathers are anchored, surrounding them.

3. Dinosaurs Spit Venom - In one memorable scene, the portly Nedry comes face to face with a Dilophosaurus. The Dilophosaurus expands a neck frill and spits venom into Nedry's face. In reality, the Dilophosaurus has no neck frill; it would show up on fossils. There's also no evidence this species or any other dinosaur species spat venom. Venom glands don't fossilize too well.

4. Dinosaurs Whip Their Tails - In several scenes in the movie, dinosaurs like the T-Rex and velociraptor rippled and whipped their tails back and forth like cats. In reality, therapod tails served as a counterweight to their heads, so they had strong fibers reinforcing their spine to keep them rigid. Think of them more like the tails of crocodiles. Their tails just weren't that flexible.

5. T-Rexes Can Chase Cars - In one of the most popular scenes in the movie, a car is chased by a rampaging Tyrannosaurus Rex. In reality, the T-Rex's speed is a matter of great debate. Some scientists believe the T-Rex had such thick and weak leg bones that they couldn't run at all. The most generous computer modeling shows the T-Rex running a maximum of twenty eight miles an hour, far slower than a speeding car. In reality, the T-Rex would be the one thinking, "Faster...must go faster."

Scientifically accurate portrayal
of a Velociraptor: Source
6. Everything About the Velociraptors - Well, maybe not everything. I mean, they did exist and were predatory. But everything that made them the super predator in pop culture is wrong. First of all, the velociraptor in Jurassic Park is way too big. At the time of the movie, they were made huge, as tall as humans. That's because the velociraptors were confused with another species, the deinonychus. In reality, the velociraptors were about the size of turkeys or medium sized dogs. Their smaller brains also means they weren't the "clever girls" as described in the movie, able to organize and open doors; they were probably pretty dumb, certainly not as smart as humans. Also, don't call them "raptors." A raptor is the specific name for birds of prey.

UPDATE: Fixed incorrect dinosaur in Cretaceous

Did you believe any of these? What else did Jurassic Park get wrong?

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lydiak said...

Those were the ones we found wrong too (we have a budding paleontologist in our home).

Pat Dilloway said...

Until someone invents a machine to go back in time I suppose we'll never be entirely sure about the dinos.

Yolanda Renee said...

Don't care, it was a great movie and I still love it - it was entertainment, and it entertained! I watch the dino's on the science channel too, but don't mess with my Jurassic movies! LOL Imagination created that piece of art - and it rocks!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I wonder if the part about the T-Rex only seeing motion was at all accurate?
They did say in the movie the T-Rex was clocked at twenty-five mph. And the Jeep was stuck in second, for a moment, so it wasn't really speeding.
Unfortunately, we'll never know for sure.


I enjoyed the first movie, after that it was more of the same.
We need "Dinosaurs on a spaceship"!
Wink wink nudge nudge!

Reid Kemper said...

Does Ridley from the Metroid games count as a dinosaur on a spaceship?


Ridley is more dragon like, but I'll take what I can get.

jeremy [retro] said...

So they flubbed a little, was a magical experience... it is interesting about the time frame mistake... I did not know that!

Tony Laplume said...

So much of what I learned about dinosaurs as a kid was already being revised as I got only slightly older. What a scientific field of flux! Clearly the movies get things wrong for dramatic effect, but these are still useful nuggets. But I'm scared to even think about definitive dino facts these days...

Tony Laplume said...

Comic book writer Grant Morrison and filmmaker Barry Sonnenfeld actually have a project along these lines. There's a graphic novel about it, entitled Dinosaurs vs. Aliens. Morrison's grasp of dino lore is very close to what the Twins outline here. And as always, is extremely clever.

Nigel Mitchell said...

I was going to include that one. No, they made up the poor eyesight thing just to explain why the Trex wouldn't just eat them immediately: http://mentalfloss.com/article/31503/it-true-t-rex-could-only-see-things-were-moving

Nigel Mitchell said...

I agree, the movies are awesome and got a lot of things right

PL said...

watched it 3 times in the 5th day since it opened.


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