10 Facts About Troodon

Troodon was a almost as bright as a chicken

Troodon was a small, bird-like dinosaur that lived during the Cretaceous Period, about 76 million years ago. It stood about 11 feet tall and weighed about 110 pounds. An egg-layer, it had behaviors in common with both crocodiles and birds; scientists are still uncertain about its status as an ancestor of either or both. 

Troodon had a large brain for its relatively small size and was probably among the smartest dinosaurs. Its brain is proportionally larger than those found in living reptiles, so the animal may have been as intelligent as modern birds, which are more similar in brain size.

Troodon had a very large brain for its size—even larger, relatively speaking than the brains of modern reptiles. That suggests it may have been smarter than the average dinosaur, and perhaps even as intelligent as modern birds. While Troodon is often touted as the world's smartest dinosaur, this both exaggerates this carnivore's intelligence and plays down its other, equally intriguing attributes.

01
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Troodon Is Greek for "Wounding Tooth"

Joseph Leidy's illustration of Troodon's teeth

Joseph Leidy/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain 

The name Troodon (pronounced TRUE-oh-don) derives from a single tooth discovered in 1856 by the famous American naturalist Joseph Leidy (who thought he was dealing with a small lizard rather than a dinosaur). It wasn't until the early 1930's that scattered fragments of Troodon's hand, foot, and tail were unearthed in various places in North America, and even then, these fossils wound up being assigned to the incorrect genus.

02
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Troodon Had a Bigger Brain than Most Dinosaurs

troodon

Greg Heartsfield/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0

The most notable feature of Troodon was its unusually large brain, which was heftier, in proportion to the rest of its 75-pound body, than the brain matter of comparably sized theropods. According to one analysis, Troodon had an "encephalization quotient" several times that of most other dinosaurs, making it the true Albert Einstein of the Cretaceous period. Brainy as it was,  however, Troodon was still only about as smart as a chicken!

03
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Troodon Flourished in Colder Climates

troodon

Taena Doman/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0

In addition to a bigger brain, Troodon possessed larger eyes than most theropod dinosaurs, a hint that it either hunted at night or needed to gather in all the available light from its cold, dark North American environment (another dinosaur that pursued this evolutionary strategy was the big-eyed Australian ornithopod Leaellynasaura). Processing more visual information necessarily entails having a larger brain, which helps to explain Troodon's relatively high IQ.

04
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Troodon Laid Clutches of 16 to 24 Eggs at a Time

A clutch of Troodon eggs

 Kevmin/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 3.0

Troodon is famous for being one of the few carnivorous dinosaurs whose parenting routines are known in detail. To judge by the preserved nesting grounds discovered by Jack Horner in Montana's Two Medicine Formation, Troodon females laid two eggs per day over the course of a week or so, resulting in circular clutches of 16 to 24 eggs (only a few of which would have escaped being eaten by scavengers before hatching). As with some modern birds, it's possible that these eggs were brooded by the male of the species.

05
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For Decades, Troodon Was Known as Stenonychosaurus

troodon

Matt Martyniuk/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 3.0

In 1932, the American paleontologist Charles H. Sternberg erected the new genus Stenonychosaurus, which he classified as a basal theropod closely related to Coelurus. It was only after the discovery of more complete fossil remains in 1969 that paleontologists "synonymized" Stenonychosaurus with Troodon, and recognized Stenonychosaurus/Troodon's close affinity to the contemporary Asian theropod Saurornithoides.

06
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It's Unclear How Many Species Troodon Comprised

A partial Troodon skull

Roland Tanglao from Vancouver, Canada/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0

Fossil specimens of Troodon have been discovered across the expanse of North America, in late Cretaceous sediments as far north as Alaska and (depending on how you interpret the evidence) as far south as New Mexico. When paleontologists are faced with such wide distributions, they're usually inclined to speculate that the genus umbrella may be too big—which means that some "Troodon" species may one day wind up being promoted to their own genera.

07
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Many Dinosaurs Are Classified as "Troodontids"

The Troodontidae are a large family of North American and Asian theropods that share certain key characteristics (the size of their brains, the arrangement of their teeth, etc.) with the eponymous genus of the breed, Troodon. Some of the better-known troodontids include the evocatively named Borogovia (after a Lewis Carroll poem) and Zanabazar (after a Mongolian spiritual figure), as well as the unusually tiny and delicate Mei, which also stands out for having one of the shortest names in the dinosaur bestiary.

08
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Troodon Had Binocular Vision

Not only were the eyes of Troodon larger than normal, but they were set toward the front rather than the side of this dinosaur's face—an indication that Troodon possessed advanced binocular vision, with which it could target small, skittering prey. By contrast, the eyes of many herbivorous animals are set toward the sides of their heads, an adaptation that allows them to detect the presence of approaching carnivores. This forward-facing anatomy, so reminiscent of that of humans, may also help to explain Troodon's reputation for extreme intelligence.

09
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Troodon May Have Enjoyed an Omnivorous Diet

troodon

 

IJReid/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 3.0

With its characteristic eyes, brain, and grasping hands, you might think Troodon was built exclusively for a predatory lifestyle. However, the distinct possibility exists that this dinosaur was an opportunistic omnivore, feeding on seeds, nuts, and fruits as well as smaller mammals, birds, and dinosaurs. One study claims that Troodon's teeth were adapted to chewing soft meat, rather than fibrous vegetables, so the jury is still out on this dinosaur's preferred diet.

10
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Troodon Might Eventually Have Evolved a Human Level of Intelligence

In 1982, the Canadian paleontologist Dale Russell speculated about what might have happened if Troodon had survived the K/T Extinction 65 million years ago. In his not-too-serious "counterfactual" history, Troodon evolved into a large-brained, two-legged, intelligent reptile with big eyes, partially opposable thumbs and three fingers on each hand—and looked and acted like a modern human being. Some people take this theory a bit too literally, claiming that human-like "reptoids" walk among us today!