Top 10 Cutest Dinosaurs of the Mesozoic Era

Endearing Features Include Tiny, Feathered, Big-Eyed, Toothless...

Not all dinosaurs were slobbering, bucktoothed meat-eaters or squat, barrel-chested plant eaters—a few were every bit as cute as a newborn puppy or kitten (though that, of course, has a lot to do with how these adorable dinosaurs have been rendered by modern "paleo-artists"). Below you'll discover 10 real-life dinosaurs cute enough to grace the cover of a Jurassic Hallmark card. (Are your teeth starting to hurt from all this sweetness? Then check out our list of the 10 ugliest dinosaurs.) 

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An Illustration of the <i>Chaoyangsaurus</i>
Chaoyangsaurus fossils have been found in the Liaoning Province in northeastern China.

 Nobu Tamura / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0

Believe it or not, the adorably tiny (only three feet long from head to tail and 20 or 30 pounds), tuft-tailed, two-legged Chaoyangsaurus was a distant ancestor of horned, frilled dinosaurs like Triceratops and Pentaceratops. Like many other "basal" ceratopsians of the late Jurassic and early Cretaceous periods, Chaoyangsaurus may have supplemented its leafy diet with nuts and seeds, and some paleontologists believe it was capable of swimming (which may explain that structure on the back of its tail).

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An illustration of the <i>Europasaurus</i> along with other prehistoric creatures with a backdrop of forest and streams
Fossils of the Europasaurus have been found in northern Germany.

Gerhard Boeggemann / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.5

The most petite sauropod yet identified, Europasaurus only weighed about 1,000 to 2,000 pounds, making it the true runt of the litter compared to 20- or 30-ton contemporaries like Brachiosaurus and Apatosaurus. Why was Europasaurus so small and, well, so adorable? The prevailing theory is that this plant-eating dinosaur was restricted to an island habitat in central Europe, and "evolved down" in size so as not to outstrip its scarce food supply—the carnivorous dinosaurs in the area were comparably small as well.

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A digital image of a lightly feathered <i>Gigantoraptor</i> with claws on its wings
The Gigantoraptor fossils have been found in the Sunitezuoqi region of Inner Mongolia, China.

Taena Doman / Wikimedia Commons

Gigantoraptor is one of those dinosaurs whose cuteness is directly proportional to the tastes of whatever artist happens to be illustrating it. Not technically a true raptor, Gigantoraptor may have been covered with long, tufted feathers (cute) or gnarly, abrasive bristles (not so cute). Gigantoraptor's cute quotient also depends on whether this two-ton Oviraptor relative contented itself with a vegetarian diet or feasted on the occasional small mammal. Whatever the case, it was one of the biggest feathered dinosaurs of the Mesozoic Era.

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A model of the <i>Leaellynasaura</i> just outside Canberra in the Australia National Dinosaur Museum in Nicholls
Leaellynasaura fossils were discovered in Australia. This model is at the Australia National Dinosaur Museum in Nicholls, just outside Canberra.

 Australia National Dinosaur Museum / Wikimedia Commons

As adorable as its name is hard to pronounce (much less spell), Leaellynasaura was a human-size ornithopod of middle Cretaceous Australia. The most "awwww"-inducing aspect of this dinosaur was its large eyes, an adaptation to the darkness in which its habitat was plunged for much of the year. It also doesn't hurt that Leaellynasaura was named after an 8-year-old girl, the daughter of the Australian paleontologist Patricia Vickers-Rich.

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Illustration of an <i>Limusaurus</i> in mid stride
Fossils of the Limusaurus have been found in Xinjiang, China.

 Nobu Tamura / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

Limusaurus was to other meat-eating dinosaurs what the gentle Ferdinand was to other bulls. Judging by its long, tapered, toothless snout, this Asian dinosaur may have been a vegetarian, and probably wasn't invited to many football games by its bigger, scarier relatives like Yangchuanosaurus and Szhechuanosaurus. One imagines the meek, 75-pound Limusaurus off in a field somewhere, feeding on dandelions and ignoring the taunts of its theropod cousins.

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Model of a brown and black spotted <i>Mei</i> next to a log and ferns
Fossils of the Mei have been found in Liaoning, China.

Wikimedia Commons

Almost as tiny as its name, Mei (Chinese for "sound asleep") was a feathered theropod of early Cretaceous China closely related to the much bigger Troodon. What will tug at your heartstrings is that the single known fossil specimen of Mei was found curled up in a ball, its tail wrapped around its body and its head tucked underneath its arm. Apparently (and not so adorably), this sleeping hatchling was buried alive by a sudden sandstorm about 140 million years ago.

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An artist's rendering of a brown <i>Micropachycephalosaurus</i> with black and white stripes outlining its eye and running down the ridge along its back and tail
The fossils of Micropachycephalosaurus have been found in Shandong, China.

 H. Kyoht Luterman / Wikimedia Commons

From the shortest dinosaur name (Mei, previous slide), we come to the longest with absolutely no diminution in cuteness. Micropachycephalosaurus translates from the Greek as "tiny thick-headed lizard," and that's exactly what this dinosaur was—a five-pound pachycephalosaur that roamed late Cretaceous Asia about 80 million years ago. It's hard to imagine two Micropachycephalosaurus males headbutting each other for dominance in the herd, but hey, wouldn't it be cute?

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Model of a <i>Minmi</i> at a museum in Australia
Fossils of the Minmi have been found in Queensland, Australia.

 Australian Museum / Wikimedia Commons

No, its name isn't a reference to Mini-Me, Dr. Evil's tiny doppelganger in the Austin Powers movies. But it might as well be: As ankylosaurs go, Minmi was wee, "only" about 10 feet long and 500 to 1,000 pounds. What makes this Australian dinosaur especially adorable is that it had a smaller brain, compared to its body size, than most of its armored breed. Since ankylosaurs weren't exactly the brainiest dinosaurs to begin with, that makes Minmi the Cretaceous equivalent of Baby Huey.

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Illustration of a hairy <i>Nothronychus</i> with three long claws and a long bushy tail
The fossils of the Nothronychus have been found in Utah and New Mexico.

 Nobu Tamura / Wikimedia Commons

Its close cousin, Therizinosaurus, gets all the press, but Nothronychus earns cuteness points for its genial, shaggy, Big Bird-like appearance (long, tapered front claws, narrow snout, and prominent pot belly) and its presumed herbivorous diet. Oddly enough, Nothronychus is also the first therizinosaur ever to be identified outside Asia; perhaps some bigger North American dinosaurs visiting Mongolia 80 million years ago took it home as a pet.

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An illustration of a black-and-white striped <i>Unaysaurus</i>
Fossils of the Unaysaurus have been found in the Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil.

 Joao Boto / Wikimedia Commons

Probably the most obscure entry on this list, Unaysaurus was one of the first prosauropods, the bipedal, plant-eating dinosaurs distantly ancestral to the massive sauropods and titanosaurs that lived tens of millions of years later. Smaller than most of the prosauropods that followed it (only about eight feet long and 200 pounds), Unaysaurus was gentle and inoffensive enough to have its own TV show, if TVs had existed during the late Triassic period.

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Your Citation
Strauss, Bob. "Top 10 Cutest Dinosaurs of the Mesozoic Era." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Strauss, Bob. (2023, April 5). Top 10 Cutest Dinosaurs of the Mesozoic Era. Retrieved from Strauss, Bob. "Top 10 Cutest Dinosaurs of the Mesozoic Era." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 7, 2023).