The Dinosaurs of Terra Nova

An Analysis of the Dinosaurs Featured on the Fox TV Series Terra Nova

Carnotaurus, the first dinosaur in Terra Nova to render a human being extinct (Sergey Krasovskiy).


Is it possible to kill a full-grown Brachiosaurus with a single rifle shot to the head? Can you stuff an adult Carnotaurus into a tiny, Volkswagen-sized shipping crate, and have it spring out, like a child's toy, when someone is foolish enough to open it? These are the only two dinosaur-themed questions asked by the two-hour season finale of Terra Nova, and the answer to both (in case you haven't guessed) is a resolute "yes." As to whether this show will be renewed for another season, or if the second season will be any better than the first, those more important questions have yet to be addressed.

Terra Nova Scorecard, Episode 11 ("Occupation/Resistance")



Is Terra Nova worth watching when it has practically no dinosaurs? Judging by this week's episode, which features about ten seconds apiece of a pair of Pteranodons and and a pair of Brachiosaurus, I'd have to say no. The writing is clumsy (why does Commander Taylor's evil genius son spill his plans, in detail, to his adorable but unwitting accomplice?), the characters (with the exception of Taylor himself) are bland and forgettable, and Fox seems to cram about 30 minutes' worth of blaring commercials into an hour broadcast. I have to admit it flat out: If I wasn't maintaining this running blog, I'd never tune in to Terra Nova again!

Terra Nova Scorecard, Episode 10 ("Within")



Two dinosaurs make return engagements in this week's episode of Terra Nova.

First, Boxer, the adorable baby Ankylosaurus from Episode 5, is returned to the wild, where he's greeted by his impressively rendered mother. (In real life, of course, Boxer would be immediately gobbled up by one of the numerous theropods, like "Nychoraptor" and Carnotaurus, that surround the colony.) Second, Commander Taylor and his arch-nemesis Mira have to join forces to fend off a pair of adolescent "Slashers," who want to claim some virgin territory as their mating ground.

The Slashers are subdued (somewhat unfairly) by flaming arrows, and don't really put up much of a fight, probably due to budgetary constraints.

Terra Nova Scorecard, Episode 9 ("Now You See Me")

"Slashers," aka "Acceraptors"



Not a single, solitary dinosaur appears in the eighth episode of Terra Nova, which is filled with wordy expositions about Commander Taylor's relationship with his rebellious son and the "real" reason Terra Nova was founded. Fans of prehistoric fauna will have to content themselves with a giant dragonfly (probably of the genus Megalneura), which has been cleverly altered by the Sixers to spy on the unsuspecting colony.

Terra Nova Scorecard, Episode 8 ("Vs.")

Megalneura, a giant, prehistoric dragonfly


Dinosaurs get short shrift in the seventh episode of Terra Nova; only a handful of sauropods are glimpsed in the opening montage, along with some soaring pterosaurs. In the first scene, Jim Shannon hauls what looks like an Excalibosaurus (a type of marine reptile) out of the water, but it's twice referenced as a "fish," so the resemblance may be coincidental. Later, there's a brief cameo by an "ancestral Komodo," a giant, non-dinosaur lizard that flashes its ample frill like the inaccurately portrayed Dilophosaurus in the first Jurassic Park movie. Other than those--and a few flying, grape-sized beetles--that's it for the prehistoric megafauna this week!

Terra Nova Scorecard, Episode 7 ("Proof")

An "ancestral Komodo," a giant, splay-legged lizard


Halfway through its premier season, Terra Nova finally hauls out the big guns. When the colony loses power after a meteor impact, the rebel Sixers stage an assault with the aid of an enormous Spinosaurus, the largest carnivorous dinosaur that ever lived (although it's doubtful whether a Spinosaurus would allow itself to be herded and harassed by puny humans). This rampaging Spinosaurus is by the far the most impressive dinosaur glimpsed on Terra Nova to date; too bad it doesn't get even more screen time. A small cameo appearance is also made by the "Nychoraptors" of the previous episode, which seem positively harmless next to their humongous theropod cousin.

Terra Nova Scorecard, Episode 6 ("Nightfall")

"Nychoraptor," a raptor-like theropod


Yet another made-up dinosaur features heavily in the fifth episode of Terra Nova: "Nychoraptor," an agile theropod that's variously described by the colonists as a "two-legged shark" and a "prehistoric turkey." There are three odd things about Nychoraptor: first, it's classified as a "gallosaur" (yet another made-up term that's ostensibly meant to evoke the real-life dinosaur Gallimimus); second, it's able to climb trees; and third, like all of Terra Nova's theropods, and unlike actual raptors, it lacks any noticeable feathers. This episode also has a minor subplot involving an Ankylosaurus egg; the adorable little critter pokes its head through right before the closing credits.

Terra Nova Scorecard, Episode 5 ("Bylaw")

"Nychoraptor," a raptor-like theropod


Terra Nova continues to de-emphasize dinosaurs; it's only about 45 minutes into the fourth episode that an "ovisaur" makes a brief appearance, threatening a downward-dangling Jim Shannon. Most of "The Runaway" is concerned with the "real" reason the colony was founded; let's just hope enough viewers continue to care by episode 13.

Terra Nova Scorecard, Episode 4 ("The Runaway")

An ovisaur, a small, carnivorous dinosaur


The third episode of Terra Nova introduces a new breed of made-up dinosaur, the "ovisaur," which looks like a typical small theropod of the early Jurassic period (even though this show ostensibly takes place during the late Cretaceous). One wonders why Terra Nova's producers didn't just opt for the well-attested Oviraptor; one possible reason is that Oviraptor had feathers, while the "ovisaur" looks like a typical, scaly, unimaginative movie dinosaur. Other than that--and a cameo by a ravenous Carnotaurus in the pre-credit teaser--this episode plays like a bad early episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, with a barely believable plot involving a memory-loss virus.

Terra Nova Scorecard, Episode 3 ("What Remains")

"Ovisaurs," small, featherless theropod dinosaurs


With the exception of a pickled baby Protoceratops in a jar, no dinosaurs make an appearance in the second installment of Terra Nova. Rather, this episode focuses on the invasion of the colony by a millions-strong flock of small, seagull-sized pterosaurs. (Oddly enough, the flying reptiles featured in this episode appear to be long-tailed "ramphorhynchoid" pterosaurs, which had pretty much gone extinct by the end of the Jurassic period--well over 50 million years before the action takes place!) No one knows much about pterosaur breeding habits, but it's not impossible that these creatures flocked like birds for the purpose of mating. Needless to say, the pterosaurs are safely diverted from the colony by the strategic use of pheromones, though their eggs may well be hatching next year (assuming Terra Nova is renewed for another season).

Terra Nova Scorecard, Episode 2 ("Instinct")

Protoceratops, glimpsed in passing in a test tube
Malcolmus, a made-up genus of rhamphorynchoid pterosaur


As you might expect, most of the first hour of the two-hour Terra Nova premiere is devoted to setting up this show's premise. It's the 22nd century, and the world's environment is such a sooty, overcrowded shambles that people have to use "rebreathers" just to survive. One lucky nuclear family, the Shannons, is chosen to join the next "pilgrimage" to Terra Nova: a lush, green, unspoiled Eden located 85 million years in the past, during the late Cretaceous period. After a few dramatic complications--including dad having to break out of a high-security prison, where he's been sent for illegally siring a third adorable child--the family, along with dozens of others colonists, walks through a pulsing wormhole straight into the middle of Terra Nova.

Brachiosaurus - Terra Nova's First Sauropod

It's no coincidence that the first dinosaur sighting in Terra Nova pays homage to a comparable scene in the first Jurassic Park movie. Glancing up soon after her arrival, little Zoe Shannon sees a herd of Brachiosaurus just outside the colony's perimeter; one of these gentle sauropods even bends its neck down and grabs a leafy branch out of her hands (raising her a few feet off the ground in the process). Later, Zoe's know-it-all older sister, Maddy, explains to a lovestruck boy that Brachiosaurus doesn't just eat plants, but supplements its diet with small lizards. (In fact, most paleontologists believe that Brachiosaurus, and other sauropods like it, was a strict herbivore.)

Carnotaurus - Terra Nova's First Theropod

The next dinosaur to pop up in Terra Nova is temperamentally (and dietetically) the exact opposite of Brachiosaurus. Venturing outside the gate with the colony's commander, Nathaniel Taylor, dad Jim Shannon witnesses a pack of Carnotaurus chasing down a pair of armored vehicles (in a nifty shot, one of these theropods bites the head off a truck's unfortunate driver). The Carnotaurus are stopped short of the colony by some high-tech weapons, which deter them humanely rather than killing them (rather like a dog's sonic barrier). The Carnotaurus is portrayed convincingly, even if its arms seem a bit too long for its body; in fact, this predator had the most comically undersized arms in the entire dinosaur bestiary.

The last dinosaur to be featured in Terra Nova's premiere, the Slasher, is sure to be the most controversial. Unlike Brachiosaurus and Carnotaurus, the Slasher isn't identified by genus, but it appears to be a cross between a Monolophosaurus (note the single prominent crest on its head) and the "Velociraptors" from Jurassic Park (which were actually much bigger Deinonychus individuals), with the incongruous addition of a deadly, whiplike tail. The Slasher clearly isn't a raptor (it lacks feathers, as well as single, oversized claws on each of its hind feet), yet the Terra Nova team has leaked the made-up genus name "Acceraptor" to fan sites. What's more, as far as paleontologists can tell, the only dinosaurs capable of wielding their tails like whips were sauropods, not theropods!

In any event, one suspects that this fearsome dinosaur has been named the "Slasher" as a kind of cinematic pun. Teen heartthrob Josh Shannon and his new buddies sneak out of Terra Nova to go swimming and drink moonshine, and they soon find themselves in the dark, huddled inside their damaged vehicle, being picked off one by one by a herd of ravenous Monolophosaurus/Deinonychus/Acceraptor. Anyone who's ever seen a classic 1980's slasher flick will pick up the reference instantly, though more fastidious dinosaur fans are bound to be disappointed.

Terra Nova Scorecard, Episode One ("Genesis")

Acceraptor (aka "the Slasher"), most closely resembles Monolophosaurus