10 Facts About Dilophosaurus

This dinosaur didn't really spit poison or flare its neck

Thanks to its inaccurate portrayal in 1993's "Jurassic Park," the Dilophosaurus may be the most misunderstood dinosaur that ever lived. The poison-spitting, neck-fluttering, dog-size chimera in Steven Spielberg's movie came almost purely from his imagination. Here are 10 facts about this Jurassic creature:

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Didn't Spit Poison

Jurassic Twin Crested Dilophosaurus Fossil
Kevin Schafer / Getty Images

The biggest fabrication in the entire "Jurassic Park" franchise came when that cute, curious little Dilophosaurus sprayed burning venom in the face of Wayne Knight. Not only wasn't the Dilophosaurus poisonous but also there's no convincing evidence that any dinosaur of the Mesozoic Era deployed poison in its offensive or defensive arsenal. There was briefly some buzz about the feathered dinosaur Sinornithosaurus, but it turned out that this carnivore's "venom sacs" were actually displaced teeth.

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Had No Expandable Neck Frill

dilophosaurus in Jurassic Park
Universal Pictures

Also inaccurate is the fluttering neck crest that the "Jurassic Park" special-effects mavens bestowed on the Dilophosaurus. There's no reason to believe that the Dilophosaurus or any other meat-eating dinosaur possessed such a frill, but since this soft-tissue anatomical feature wouldn't have preserved well in the fossil record, there's room for reasonable doubt.

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Much Bigger Than a Golden Retriever

graphic rendering of pack of dilophosaurus

Mark Stevenson / Stocktrek Images / Getty Images

In the movie, the Dilophosaurus is portrayed as a cute, playful, dog-sized critter, but this dinosaur measured about 20 feet from head to tail and weighed around 1,000 pounds when fully grown, much bigger than the biggest bears alive today. The Dilophosaurus in the movie may have been a juvenile or even a hatchling, but that's not the way it was perceived by most viewers.

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Named After Its Head Crests

graphic rendering of dilophosaurus

Corey Ford / Stocktrek Images / Getty Images

The most distinctive (real) feature of the Dilophosaurus is the paired crests atop its skull, the function of which remains a mystery. Most likely, these crests were a sexually selected characteristic (that is, males with prominent crests were more attractive to females during mating season, helping to propagate this trait) or they helped members of the pack recognize each other from afar, assuming that the Dilophosaurus hunted or traveled in packs.

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Lived During the Early Jurassic Period

rendering of dilophosaurus with crest on white background

Suwatwongkham / Getty Images

One of the most unusual things about the Dilophosaurus is that it lived in the early Jurassic period, 190 million to 200 million years ago, not a particularly productive time in terms of the fossil record. This means the North American Dilophosaurus was a relatively recent descendant of the first true dinosaurs, which evolved in South America during the preceding Triassic period, about 230 million years ago.

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Classification Unsure

Dilophosaurus with piece of flesh in its mouth

Yuriy Priymak / Stocktrek Images / Getty Images

A bewildering array of small- to medium-size theropod dinosaurs roamed the earth during the early Jurassic period, all of them, like the Dilophosaurus, related to the first dinosaurs from 30 million to 40 million years before. Some paleontologists classify the Dilophosaurus as a "ceratosaur" (akin to Ceratosaurus), while others peg it as a close relative of the extremely numerous Coelophysis. One expert insists that the closest relative of the Dilophosaurus was the Antarctic Cryolophosaurus.

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Not the Only "Lophosaurus'

graphic rendering of monolophosaurus

Vac1 / Getty Images

It isn't as well known as the Dilophosaurus, but the Monolophosaurus ("single-crested lizard") was a slightly smaller theropod dinosaur of late Jurassic Asia, closely related to the better-known Allosaurus. The earlier Triassic period witnessed the tiny, toothless Trilophosaurus ("three-crested lizard"), which wasn't a dinosaur but a genus of archosaur, the family of reptiles from which dinosaurs evolved.

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May Have Been Warm-Blooded

animatronic dinosaurs being unloaded from truck
Matt Cardy / Getty Images

A case can be made that the fleet, predatory theropod dinosaurs of the Mesozoic Era were warm-blooded, akin to modern mammals including human beings. Although there's no direct evidence that the Dilophosaurus possessed feathers, a feature of many Cretaceous meat-eaters that points to an endothermic metabolism, there's no compelling evidence against this hypothesis, except that feathered dinosaurs would have been rare on the ground during the early Jurassic period.

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Healthy Feet Despite Its Weight

graphic rendering of dilophosaurus in field

Kostyantyn Ivanyshen / Stocktrek Images / Getty Images

Some paleontologists insist that the most telling feature of any dinosaur fossil is its feet. In 2001, a team of researchers examined 60 separate metatarsal fragments attributed to the Dilophosaurus and found no evidence of any stress fractures, which indicates that this dinosaur was unusually light on its feet when hunting prey.

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Once Known as a Species of Megalosaurus

Megalosaurus dinosaur walking toward the ocean at sunset.
Stocktrek Images / Getty Images

For over 100 years after it was named, Megalosaurus served as a "wastebasket" name for plain-vanilla theropods. Pretty much any dinosaur that resembled it was assigned to it as a separate species. In 1954, a dozen years after its fossil was discovered in Arizona, the Dilophosaurus was classified as a Megalosaurus species; much later, in 1970, the paleontologist who unearthed the original "type fossil" finally coined the genus name Dilophosaurus.

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Strauss, Bob. "10 Facts About Dilophosaurus." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/things-to-know-dilophosaurus-1093784. Strauss, Bob. (2023, April 5). 10 Facts About Dilophosaurus. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/things-to-know-dilophosaurus-1093784 Strauss, Bob. "10 Facts About Dilophosaurus." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/things-to-know-dilophosaurus-1093784 (accessed June 6, 2023).