How accurate are the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park? Part 2
Updated: Jan 29
Here we are with part two of how accurate were the dinosaurs in the Jurassic Park and Jurassic World films.
As stated before, the dinosaurs seen in the Jurassic Park series are what seems to serve as the main inspiration for many future paleontologists, so they come as a handy tool to use to learn what real dinosaurs were actually like.
So, let's not stand on ceremony and begin!
Ever heard of T.rex? Don't worry if not, you've only been living under a rock for 70 million years. Tyrannosaurus rex has been the world's favourite dinosaur for well over a century, as well as the mascot of anything prehistoric. So the creators of Jurassic Park would have been stupid at the highest level to not include it in their films. Despite being the poster boy of all large theropods, T.rex isn't actually very typical for a theropod and has many features not usually seen on this type of dinosaur.
So, how accurate is the T.rex from Jurassic Park? Well, it isn't actually as inaccurate as many of the other dinosaurs seen at first glance, but it definitely has some issues. First let's look at the general inaccuracies that are normally seen on all theropods in most forms of media. To begin with, there's the shrink wrapping of the skin. Whenever dinosaurs are seen in pop culture, there seems to be a tendency to have as much of the skeleton showing as possible. I'm not too sure why, you'd think that people would recognise a T.rex without having to see the contours of its skull, but there you have it.
In life, you would have seen as much skeleton through the skin as any other animal with muscles, fat, organs and general flesh. If you can see the dinosaur's ribs and cranial fenestrae (all the holes in the skull), it is either starving or already decomposing. I have also highlighted in blue the incredibly square jawline, which would have been much less deep and smooth in real life.
Speaking of skin coverage, let's talk lips. Teeth covering lips were one of the very, very few accuracies seen in Jurassic Park's Velociraptor, but not quite as much effort was made with the T.rex and its overbite. In real life, you wouldn't have seen any teeth while the dinosaur's mouth was closed.
Colouring of the T.rex is another point I want to touch on. Given its bird heritage and their most common method for attracting mates being colourful display, it stands to reason that most male dinosaurs would have had some sort of bright colours and/or ornamentation for display. This has been shown in many depictions of T.rex, however, I believe this could be another way that T.rex is the outlier. This, in my opinion (or as scientists like to call it, hypothesis) and far from a scientific fact, but I think T.rex would have had colouring closer to what we see in Jurassic Park because that would make it far more camouflaged. I have been over the T.rex hunting debate and what hunting strategies I think it would have used, but in short, a predator that size would need to ambush in short bursts rather than chase down prey, so it would need to be unseen for as long as possible.
Another quick point I should make applies to all theropods seen in Jurassic Park and most forms of media, which I'll name 'JP hands'. 99.9% of the time I see a theropod on pop-culture, their front limbs are pronated the wrong way. They are almost always facing 'palm-down' when, in actual fact, a theropod's wrist would have to be broken to do that. In reality, they were always 'palm-inwards', as if they were trying to clap. Good luck unseeing that in the future.
Now let's get to the two mammoths in the room. Feathers and eyesight.
Tyrannosaur integument has been debated and researched very heavily over the years. Most basal Tyrannosaurs show a heavy amount of feather coverage on their bodies, with dinosaurs such as Yutyrannus huali sporting a famously impressive coat. Given the fact that feathers are an ancestral trait, especially with tyrannosaurs, scientists used phylogenetic bracketing to come to the conclusion that T.rex had similar integument. That is, until a T.rex fossil was found with scaly skin impressions from a variety of parts of its body. The wide distribution of these impressions seems to show that, while most tyrannosaurs were fluffy, T.rex was the scaly weirdo of the lot! Having said that, it doesn't mean that some sort of feather coverage was completely absent (maybe there was the odd quill along its back), but at a glance, it would appear that T.rex was indeed scaly.
Then we have the infamous eyesight. It is stated in Jurassic Park that 'it can't see us if we don't move'. This makes for a tense plot point to create some nail-biting scenes, but it could not be further from the truth. There are indeed predators that struggle to sense prey items when they don't move, but they normally get what they want through smell and sound. The struggle to distinguish still objects correlates heavily with depth perception, which an animal will only lack when their eyes are placed so that they can't focus both eyes on the same object at the same time. Most prey animals have swapped this for the ability to have near 360° sight but some dinosaurian predators also lack the ability of depth perception, such as many allosaurids.
T.rex, however, showcases once again why it is the outlier. T.rex's box-shaped skull meant that it could focus both eyes on the same object incredibly well. In fact, after heavy study, paleontologists estimate that T.rex had better vision than a hawk.
If you stood still, it may stare blankly at you for a few seconds, but only while it wonders why you're stupid enough not to run.
Actual depiction of the dinosaur:
Straight off the bat, the most glaring issue is another case of JP hands. I won't cover this each time as it happens a lot, but there it is.
Other than this, the Gallimimus seen in Jurassic Park is fairly accurate in terms of its skeleton. The only other issue (and this is going to be another common theme) is the fact that these dinosaurs look somewhat... naked. Gallimimus is a member of the Ornithomimid family, which translates roughly to 'ostrich mimic dinosaurs'. Given the superficial similarities to ostriches and the fact that feathers were, yet again, an ancestral trait, there is an almost definite likelihood that they were covered in feathers and looked pretty much like... well... ostriches.
Actual depiction of the animal:
Clever girl. Not so clever depiction. But why are Velociraptors in Jurassic Park inaccurate? I get that the Jurassic World films have gone back and conceded that these are not accurate to the 'natural' Velociraptors, rather being mutated monsters loosely based on the original dinosaur, but that hasn't stopped many people being very surprised when they see an actual Velociraptor.
This was covered heavily in the everything you need to know about raptors post, but I'll scan over the main points again. In the original Jurassic Park novel, Michael Crichton wanted a scary and deadly dinosaur that was around human height. Deinonychus antirrhopus was the best fit and, before the novel, was probably the most famous Dromaeosaur (the scientific term for the group that most people think of when they hear the term 'raptor'). However, Crichton didn't feel that Deinonychus sounded scary enough, but Velociraptor definitely did. So, he took Deinonychus and gave it Velociraptor's name.
The real Velociraptor looked very different. Not only was the skull much longer and slimmer along with the hand claws being longer (also the dreaded JP hands strike again), but was also about the height of a turkey.
The other glaring issue is... you guessed it... feathers! Seeing a pattern here? Yes, these raptors were far too scaly. This is something people seemed to have known for a while, but most don't realise just how feathery dromaeosaurs were. It wasn't just a case of some tail feathers, arm feathers and a little mohawk, they were covered almost head to toe in them. In fact, they would have looked less like two-legged komodon dragons with some feathers and more like a long-tailed ground hawk.
Actual depiction of the animal:
These cute and chirpy little fellows first appeared in Jurassic Park 2: The Lost World (though the same scene takes place at the start of the first book), when a young girl is attacked on a beach by a group of them. A mercenary also meets a very unfortunate fate at the hands of the 'compys'.
...speaking of hands, I'm just gonna say it... JP hands... moving on.
There isn't actually too much about these Compsognathuses in Jurassic Park that is inaccurate. The size is about right and the skeletal structure isn't too shabby either.
You probably think I'm going to attack the lack of feathers yet again, but actually, Jurassic Park can have a pass on this one. While no one would be surprised if Compsognathus was found to have had feathers, the only skin impressions we have of this dinosaur are scaly. These are only from the side of the tail and are tiny, so feathers aren't out of the question. Having said that, I've been far too harsh on most dinosaur films in my lifetime, so we'll let this one slide considering a lack of defining evidence... It's still highly possible though.
Actual depiction of the animal:
They got sooooo close with this one!
Stegosaurus did, at a glance, look more or less like what we see in Jurassic Park. The first main difference (something most media forms and even museums are guilty of) is the placement of the thagomizers. Thagomizers are the spikes on the end of a Stegosaurus's tail, which you'll often see placed on the tail tilted slightly upwards. There's not much doubt that these were used for self defence, but if they were pointing upwards or even at a 45° angle, Stegosaurus would have to twist its tail to actually use those weapons, which is just awkward. It makes much more sense for the thagomizers to be placed on to the side of the tail, so that they point out parallel to the ground. That way, simply swinging the tail side to side will do a hell of a lot of damage. Again, I'm kind of willing to let this one slide given that it is more of a logical conclusion rather than fossilised fact and, like I said, even museums are known to place the thagomizers in such a way.
One thing that is definitely unforgivable though is the size. Even though Stegosaurus was one of the biggest dinosaurs, these animals are waaaaay too big! Stegosaurus ungulatus (the bigger of the two species of Stegosaurus, with the other being Stegosaurus stenops) reached up 7.5 metres (24.6 feet) at a push, whereas what we see in the Jurassic Park franchise seems to be nearly double that!
Scale that bad boy down and you've actually got a fairly accurate depiction (from what we know as of the time of writing this).
Actual depiction of the animal:
Like I said in part 1, I'm going to break this post up into a few different posts. Keep an eye out, because next time we'll be looking at:
READ MORE: How accurate are the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park? Part 3
Until next time!