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How accurate are the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park? Part 1

Updated: Jan 28, 2023

The dinosaurs from the Jurassic Park and Jurassic World franchises are responsible for capturing the world's imagination, creating multiple generations of paleontologists and becoming what everyone thinks of when they hear the word 'dinosaur'. But is Jurassic Park scientifically accurate compared to the animals that actually walked the Earth?


A frame from the film Jurassic Park showing the t.rex roaring in the rain.
Image © Universal Pictures, image is fair use.

The debate of 'how accurate are the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park' has been going on for nearly 30 years, so it's not exactly a new topic. However, looking at this question always serves as a fun bit of education and Jurassic park and Jurassic World are almost always the gateway into Paleontology these days.


Another thing to touch on is that some of these animals were a consciously inaccurate depiction at the time, but others (while being actually fairly accurate for what was known at the time the films were made) have only been found to have been inaccurate since the movies came out.


So, how accurate are the dinosaurs in Jurassic park and Jurassic World? Get comfortable everyone, because we're going to go through each dinosaur that makes an appearance in the entire series!


Brachiosaurus

Still image from Jurassic Park where a Brachiosaurus is eating from a tree
Property of Universal Studios

One of the most famous moments of the first Jurassic Park film is near the beginning, nicknamed the "They do move in herds" scene, and is when we first lay eyes on full dinosaurs. Here we see the awe-inspiring Brachiosaurus grazing in some tall trees. The first thing to point out here, is that most depictions of Brachiosaurus that we see (including this one) are actually based on specimens that have now been renamed as Giraffotitan, a close relative that is slightly bigger than Brachiosaurus. The size of the animal is a tough one as it is stated in the film that the neck is around 30 feet, according to John Hammond, which is actually pretty accurate. In the famous scene, however, it seems to me to be much bigger than that, but it's difficult to predict by how much.


The only other questions raised are ones that occur with any sauropod depicted in media and those are to do with the neck up. The first is all these sauropods seem to suffer what I've termed 'noodle-neck'... they're too skinny! 30 feet of bone and flesh is a hell of a lot to hold up and move around. A neck like that is going to need some muscle, as well as all of the necessary things such as tracheas, oesophagi, which would take up much more space than what we normally see.


Another question raised is...well raising. Scientists have often questioned whether or not a sauropod could actually raise its head in such a way, since this means that a very large volume of blood would be fighting against gravity to travel a very long route. If the blood couldn't be pumped up the head efficiently enough, the animal would simply pass out, and when you weigh 30-40 tonnes, falling over could be fatal. Having said that, Brachiosaurids seem to have a body built with the angle of holding their heads up like this, so it begs the question: how did they do it? We don't quite know just yet, but keep an eye out on this blog for further speculation!


Another point of speculation is what many paleontologists have thought about with many sauropods. Did they have a nasal hump? Many sauropod skulls seem to have nasal passages quite high up, along with a snout that was fairly concave. Many have speculated that this meant that the head had some sort of nasal hump, which would be handy if you wanted to make some noise for communication.


Accurate depiction of the dinosaur:


A restoration of a Brachiosaurus
Image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brachiosaurus_NT_new.jpg

Parasaurolophus

Still image form Jurassic Park: The Lost World of wranglers capturing a parasaurolophus
Property of Universal Studios

In the same scene, we see several herds of dinosaurs going about their day, in which we see a herd of Parasaurolophus. They're difficult to see in detail, but we do get a better look at them in later films. The size in these depictions, like most, are at the upper ends of estimations but not out of the realms of how big the dinosaur could get. The two sticking points with this dinosaur's accuracy is the crest and the sound...and also the sound from the crest.


How the crest actually looked is up for debate, whether it was skin tight or even had a skin flap connecting it to the neck (like you see in many depictions), with not much evidence for or against. What is really interesting here is what's inside the crest. CT scans of a Parasaurolophus skull showed that the inside of this crest showed remarkable similarities with the inside of a trombone, so naturally scientists decided to play harmonics through it. What resulted was this eerily beautiful sound:



What you just heard is the closest thing to a what a real dinosaur sounded like that we know of at the time of this post!


The depiction of this dinosaur in Jurassic Park (apart from the sound) is actually pretty accurate.


Dilophosaurus

Still image from Jurassic Park of the Dilophosaurus attack
Property of Universal Studios

We all remember that scene with Nedry attempting to escape with the embryos before he is met with a Dilophosaurus. When it comes to the accuracy of this particular Jurassic Park dinosaur, the actual skeletal anatomy is pretty close... if we're talking about a juvenile. The real Dilophosaurus was much bigger, around 7 metres (23 feet) long, but, to be fair, it is never stated in the film that the dinosaur in this scene is fully grown. Then we come to the features that made it famous: the frills and venom. While there is no evidence to say that Dilophosaurus didn't have expanding frills and spitting venom, there is also as much evidence to say that T.rex also had these features if you really want to speculate... so it seems unlikely.


Actual depiction of the dinosaur:

A diagram showing a size comparison of a dilophosaurus and a human
Image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dilophosaurus_Size_Comparison.svg

Triceratops


If you ask someone what their favourite dinosaur is, there is an astoundingly high chance they'll say Triceratops. It's not a surprise, you don't exactly blend into a crowd when you're as big as an elephant with three big horns sticking out of your face. In Jurassic Park, the accuracy of this dinosaur was pretty close for the time. The only inaccuracy (and it's quite a common one) was the elephant-like feet of the dinosaur. Despite how much we see this on the bulky herbivores, their feet were much more bird-like than often shown (not quite on a theropod level, but certainly a bit more dainty than elephant's feet).


But this is 2023! We know much more about Triceratops than we did back in 1993, so this dinosaur has grown more and more inaccurate over time. Let's start at the head. Deep grooves throughout the skull have been observed that were most likely for veins/arteries. They were very close to the surface, which isn't a great idea if a T.rex decides to chomp down on it. Whenever grooves for veins/arteries are seen this close to the surface, it normally means that the area was likely covered in hard keratin (seen in things like Stegosaurus back plates or theropod claws). So, a Triceratops skull didn't just have hard horns that look stuck on a scaly face, the entire skull had a helmet. Given the fact that these were likely utilised for display and communication, these helmets were probably brightly coloured/patterned, maybe even colour-changing!


Another likelihood we have recently found out is feather integument. I have explained this before, but I'll give you a quick rundown. A basal ceratopsian ancestor known as Psittacosaurus was found with not only fossilised melanosomes (we know what colour it was!), but also with a row of grass-like tail bristles.


A restoration model of Psittacosaurus from all angles
Image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Psittacosaurus_model.jpg

This is an ancestral trait, like hair on mammals, which take a very long time to lose (even whales have some hair). Given this fact, it is a likely possibility that all ceratopsians had some sort of feather bristles running along their tails. It is only the extent that remains unknown.


Actual depiction of the dinosaur:

An artist's reconstruction of a Triceratops
Image credit: https://sauriangame.fandom.com/wiki/Triceratops?file=Jacob-baardse-mview-image20171013-17513-1w8ncrw.jpg

This subject of how accurate are the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park and Jurassic World is... long to say the least. So I'm going to break this post up into a few different ones. Keep an eye out, because next time we'll be looking at:


T.rex

Gallimimus

Velociraptor

Compsognathus

Stegosaurus


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