Text by Priya Mathew | Photos by Anas Thacharpadikkal
What’s it about dinosaurs that piques the interest of both the young and the old? Is it their size, shape and scale? Or is it the fact that the largest – and seemingly invincible - reptiles that ruled the Earth for millennia were wiped out? Whatever be the case, they still intrigue us.
As new species are unearthed every year, adding to the 700 different types of dinosaurs that we already know of, this obsession is set to grow.
Making these pre-historic creatures come alive in Dubai is the Dinosaur Park, part of Dubai Garden Glow, with more than 100 beasts that move and roar. We take a look at some that have caught the imagination of visitors.
Stegosaurus has one of the smallest brain-to-body ratios among dinosaurs - the brain is the size of a hotdog in a body as big as a bus. Weighing more than 5 tonnes, Stegosaurus is easily recognisable with two rows of bony plates that run along its back and long spikes at the end of its tail, which the herbivore swung around to protect itself.
The jury is still out on the exact purpose of the bony plates, with recent studies supporting the theory that they worked mainly as mating displays than as a means of temperature control.
With tiny teeth and a toothless beak, Stegosaurus had a weak bite, weaker than ours. It had to eat a lot of bushes and shrubs in order to grow in size and the food stayed in the stomach for days for the nutrients to be properly absorbed.
With three horns and a bony frill protecting its neck, Triceratops weighed as much as a diesel truck and was as tall as a first storey building. Its skull was almost one third the length of its body (about 2.3 metres in an 8-metre body). It was just as well because Triceratops often had to fight off one of the fiercest carnivores, Tyrannosaurus rex, using its head.
Eating through tonnes of vegetation, Triceratops replaced around 400-800 teeth during its lifetime.
Parasaurolophus had a distinctive head with a hollow bony crest, hence the name crested lizard. It made a trumpeting sound by filling the crest with air, which could have been used to communicate or scare away enemies. The crest that began at its nostrils could grow to 1.8 metres in a 12-metre-long body.
Parasaurolophus could see, hear and smell very well and it used these senses to protect itself against predators. Moving in herds, this hadrosaur (duck-billed dinosaur) ate pine needles, twigs and leaves.
One of the armoured dinosaurs, Ankylosaurus was covered with bony plates known as scutes, with two rows of spikes along its body. What stood out was a club-like extension on the tail, presumably used for attracting mates, defending territory and protection against predators.
More broad than tall, Ankylosaurus ate low-lying plants. Its skull and a narrow beak were shaped in a way to help tear leaves from plants. It didn’t have any grinding teeth, so its digestive system had to break down the food it ate.
You may have referred to it as Brontosaurus all along - a case of mistaken identities. Though American paleontologist Elmer Riggs set it right as early as 1903 – he found out that Othniel C. Marsh’s discoveries, Apatosaurus ajaxa in 1877 and Brontosaurus excelsus in 1879, were one and the same, so he retained the older name Apatosaurus for the genus as was the practice - his findings didn’t get much exposure and the name Brontosaurus stuck. Now that the mix-up has been corrected, a recent study has found enough differences between the specimens and wants to reclassify Brontosaurus in a different genus.
Until that happens, the above creature will be called Apatosaurus, which is one of the biggest land animals, with a long neck and tail and sturdy legs. Studies suggest it may have had to eat up to 400kg of vegetation every day to survive.
The biggest of all two-legged carnivorous dinosaurs, Spinosaurus had a long spine on its back, which grew up to 2.1 metres forming a sort of a sail. The sail may have helped the Spinosaurus regulate its body temperature absorbing heat from the sun.
Latest fossil finds suggest Spinosaurus may have spent most of its time in the water feeding on fish. On land, it may have used its shorter forelimbs for running.
At 2 metres long and weighing 15kg, Velociraptor was one of the smaller dinosaurs. It hunted in packs, was quick on its feet, and scavenged at times, earning the name speedy thief. Reptiles, amphibians, insects, mammals and other small dinosaurs formed part of its diet.
Velociraptor was a dromaeosaurid, characterised by a slashing claw on the hind feet. It had an inflexible tail that helped the body balance on the move.
Daxiatitan was a sauropod with a long neck and tail, small head and massive limbs from the early Cretaceous period. At about 23-30 metres, it was one of the largest dinosaurs.
One of the fastest and fiercest meat-eaters, Deinonychus hunted all kinds of plant-eating dinosaurs in packs, bringing down creatures much bigger than itself. It pounced on them and used their razor-sharp swivelling toe claws to slash into the flesh while using the hand-like forelimbs to hold the struggling prey. It had strong jaws and its bite was powerful.
Most known of all dinosaurs, Tyrannosaurus rex means king of the tyrant lizard. One of the largest carnivorous dinosaurs, it had the strongest bite of any land animal, about 30,000 to 60,000 Newtons - experts say it's equivalent to the weight of a medium-size elephant sitting on you. With a mouth full of serrated teeth that were about 18 centimetres long and an evolved brain, T rex became a top predator.
Tickets to Dubai Garden Glow cost Dh60 per head. Children under three go free. Entry fee to the Ice Park is Dh40. For more details, visit http://www.dubaigardenglow.com/