Field of Science

The Top Ten Dinosaurs - Triceratops beats Tyrannosaurus

Time it took me to do something hopelessly populist in order to try and draw more attention to the Catalogue of Organisms: 24 days. What can I do that's guaranteed to work up some steam?

In that light, I here present a list of my top ten dinosaurs, inspired by Don Robertson's Top 50 Birds (actually top eleven - some tied). Candidates for the list were rated completely subjectively on five factors: (1) Impressiveness - if I were to come across one of these critters, would the appropriate response be 'wow' or 'meh'? (2) Knowledge - how extensively the species has been studied and how well it is known. (3) History and Significance - if the discovery of this species had much significance, especially at the time it was discovered. This is also the category that was influenced by how much attention this species has received from the general public over time. (4) Controversy - has the species has inspired much debate over the years? (5) Special Factors - like Don Robertson did with his bird list, I also scored for an entirely subjective character of any special significance the species has that isn't really covered by the previous four categories. This category also reflected my own personal feelings about the animal in question (and whether or not I wanted it to win).

The list:

6th Equal:
Deinonychus antirrhopus: The little evil-looking buggers with the massive sickle claws on the feet. The description of Deinonychus has been directly credited with inspiring the renaissance in views on dinosaur metabolism. Older reconstructions of sluggish, low energy dinosaurs just made no sense when applied to this obvious speedster.

Euoplocephalus tutus: Everyone's favourite living tank. What more can you say about a creature so heavily armoured that even its eyelids would have clanged when it blinked? Not to mention the thagomiser at the end of the tail.*

*I'm not sure if the term thagomiser has ever been used formally, but it has a reasonable amount of informal currency as a term for an offensive structure at the end of a tail (like the ankylosaurid club, or the stegosaurid spike array). I believe it derives from a Far Side cartoon about cavemen, where it is named after the late Thag.

Falcarius utahensis: Apparently known from more specimens than you can shake a thagomiser at, this discovery of a couple of years ago represents the basalmost member of the therizinosaurs, gigantic (probably) herbivorous theropods with ridiculously oversized claws. Falcarius was a nice find because it perfectly slotted into the gap between derived therizinosaurs and their supposed relatives.

Iguanodon bernissartensis: The classic European dinosaur, one of the earliest discovered and possibly the earliest known from significant remains (this is the best known of the multiple Iguanodon species - while Iguanodon was one of the original three dinosaurs, the specific species involved there was Iguanodon anglicus, which is no longer regarded as identifiable).

Mononykus olecranus: Arguably the wierdest of all dinosaurs, with still no real idea about its lifestyle. A small bird-like theropod, Mononykus has greatly shortened yet very stout single-clawed forelimbs. The structure of the forelimbs appears suited for digging, yet the light cursorial form of the the rest of the body doesn't appear suitable for this.

Tyrannosaurus rex: Undoubtedly the best known of all dinosaurs. To be honest, I was kind of hoping old Tyrannosaurus would fall off the list - I think she's hogged the limelight for long enough. If you want to know more, a quick Google search will tell you more than you ever wanted to know - just pay no attention to the bit about coconuts.

2nd Equal:
Archaeopteryx lithographica: The Urvogel, the Missing Link (though obviously it's not missing anymore, is it?). Archaeopteryx was the original inspiration in recognising the connection between Cretaceous dinosaurs and modern birds. While later discoveries mean that Archie (as he is known to his friends) is now but one of many fossils demonstrating this link, he still retains one of the best represented by specimens, and his historical significance will never be lost.

Oviraptor philoceratops: The name means 'egg thief and lover of ceratopsians' - when the original specimen was found it was lying on a nest of eggs that were then believed to belong to Protoceratops, and it was thought to have died while attempting to predate them. It has since been found that the eggs belonged to Oviraptor itself, and not only was it not eating them, but it would have been sitting astride them bird-style to keep them warm - history's ugliest broody chicken. The true diet of the strange-looking, beaky Oviraptor is a cause of great debate.

Triceratops horridus: Another classic. There are few people who would not recognise this beast with its broad frill and intimidating spiky bits. You know you love him, just don't stick your hand near his mouth if you want to keep it.

And my choice for the Greatest Dinosaur Ever:

Brachiosaurus brancai (or Giraffatitan brancai, depending on whom you ask): What can one say when faced with a giant sauropod except WOW! There may be bigger sauropods than Giraffatitan, there may be prettier, but this is still the classic giant and one of the best-known. Besides, the difference between unbelievably mind-blowingly HUGE and stupidly unbelieveably mind-blowingly HUGE is not that great when you consider that both can reduce you to a small greasy puddle underfoot and barely even break their stride.


  1. I'm not sure if the term thagomiser has ever been used formally

    Yes, but with z, and only for the spike array of Stegosaurus.

  2. I adore the concept but ten is probably too few to really stir up any debate. I would love for it to be put to the vote, perhaps the best 20 or 25. I just pity the remarkable beast that does not normally give the scientists much to write about.

  3. David:

    Yes, but with z...

    As a New Zealander, and a user of British rather than American English, I reserve the right to change a z to an s wherever I see fit (and I think I'll go see the sebras at the soo).


    I'll add the runners-up in another post.

  4. For some reason I've only just wandered across the post. Sir, I salute your fine, fine choice of #1 dinosaur. You'll get no argument from me!


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