Nowadays, dinosaurs are widely used as animated, fictional characters in books and movies! In reality, these reptiles appeared on Earth between 243 and 233.23 million years ago. After the Triassic-Jurassic extinction event, dinosaurs became the dominant terrestrial vertebrates.
If you’re wondering whether there’s a modern-day animal that looks like a dinosaur, we’ll tell you there are more! Keep reading to learn about living animals that resemble various dinosaurs!
1. Green Basilisk
|Scientific name||Basiliscus plumifrons|
|Other common names||Plumed basilisk, double-crested basilisk, Jesus Christ lizard|
|Native to||Central America|
Green basilisks are native to southern Mexico and northern Colombia. They have bright green bodies and black and white streaks along their backs and necks. Male green basilisks have a crest on their backs and tails, while females have a smaller crest on their heads. Green basilisks are so fast that they can run across water when fleeing predators!
Their crests make them similar to the dinosaurs in the Parasaurolophus genus, whose name means “near crested lizard.” These herbivorous dinosaurs lived in North America during the Late Cretaceous Period, roughly 76.5 – 73 million years ago.
|Scientific name||Dromaius novaehollandiae|
|Unique feature||Three toes on each leg|
Emus are also prehistoric animals! Did you notice that their body structure resembles that of a dinosaur? While they’re much smaller than dinosaurs, emus have long necks and legs that help these flightless birds reach speeds of up to 30 miles per hour!
Moreover, their feet are similar to those of dinosaurs! Emus have only three toes, exactly like some dinosaurs. Theropods, for instance, are dinosaurs with three toes and claws on each limb. Moreover, like theropods, emus have two legs, and some sources even classify them as theropods! Their behavior is an excellent indicator of how dinosaurs lived.
3. Caiman Lizard
|Scientific name||Dracaena (genus)|
|Other common names||Water tegus|
There are two extant caiman lizard species:
- Dracaena guianensis, called the Guyana caiman lizard or the northern caiman lizard
- Dracaena paraguayensis, called the Paraguayan caiman lizard
These reptiles have large bodies, short, powerful limbs, and red-orangish bulky heads. They have muscular jaws used to eat snails and crawfish, and their long tails facilitate diving and swimming. Caiman lizards can grow as large as 4 feet and weigh as much as 10 pounds!
Their appearance makes them similar to archosaurs, including dinosaurs, except that they’re much smaller than the latter!
4. Eastern Long-Necked Turtle
|Eastern Long-Necked Turtle|
|Scientific name||Chelodina longicollis|
|Unique feature||Bends its head sideways into its shell, unlike other turtles that pull it back|
|Native to||Southeastern Australia|
|Resembling dinosaur||Sauropods, including Brachiosaurus|
You might wonder, how can a turtle resemble a dinosaur, right?! These turtles have such long necks, and they move them in such a way that you’ll instantly think of a dinosaur! Take sauropods, for instance. These dinosaurs have long necks and small heads, just like eastern long-necked turtles, except they were much larger, having necks that reached 49 feet long!
These turtles usually have broad, flattened, black, or brown carapaces. Their long necks are gray to black dorsally and creamy on the underside, and they’re almost as narrow as their heads.
5. Mata Mata Turtle
|Mata Mata Turtle|
|Scientific name||Chelus fimbriata|
|Other common names||Mata mata, matamata, mata-mata|
|Distribution||South America; is found primarily in the Amazon and Orinoco basins.|
Yet another turtle resembling prehistoric animals! While the previous turtle has a long, straight neck, this one has a triangular, flattened head with flaps of skin and tubercles. Moreover, it has a horn on its tubular snout, three barbels on the chin, and four on the upper jaw. While they’re small compared to dinosaurs, measuring roughly 37 inches long, they’re pretty heavy, reaching 46 pounds!
A single look at the matamata turtle will remind you of prehistoric animals, including dinosaurs!
6. Rhinoceros Iguana
|Scientific name||Cyclura cornuta|
|Unique feature||Bony-plated pseudo-horn on its snout|
|Native to||The Caribbean|
|Resembling dinosaurs||Ceratosaurs, hadrosaur|
Their appearance gives them a prehistoric look! Rhinoceros iguanas have four legs, large and heavy heads, and vertically flattened tails. Moreover, rhino iguanas have pointed horned scales running along their backs, from the necks to the end of their tails. Besides, they have prominent tubercles on their snouts.
Ceratosaurs, for example, had a horn located behind the bony nostrils, almost like rhino iguanas. Besides this, rhinoceros iguanas have things in common with hadrosaurs and the dinosaurs in the Carnotaurus genus, too, as scientists believe these two types of dinosaurs were scaled, not feathered.
|Scientific name||Caimaninae (subfamily)|
|Animal type||Reptile; alligatorid|
|Other common names||Cayman|
|Distribution||Mexico, Central, and South America|
Caimans belong to the Alligatoridae family. They are reptiles with scaly skin that grow up to 6.6 – 8.2 feet long. These reptiles can be distinguished from their closest relatives, alligators, through several traits: caimans don’t have the bony septum between nostrils, have longer, sharper teeth, and are more agile.
Many caiman species went extinct. Some were part of the Purussaurus genus and disappeared around 5 million years ago. This proves again that caimans do have a prehistoric appearance! Moreover, since they’re in the alligatorid family, we can easily state they are distantly related to dinosaurs since both crocodiles and dinosaurs are part of the same Archosauria clade.
8. Crocodile Skink
|Scientific name||Tribolonotus gracilis|
|Other common names||Red-eyed crocodile skink|
|Native to||New Guinea|
Red-eyed crocodile skinks are lizards in the Scincidae family and are among the only ones to vocalize when threatened. Moreover, they exhibit a unique feature of playing dead when startled. These reptiles can even be kept as pets – so if you want a pet that resembles a dinosaur, it’s the red-eyed crocodile skink!
Crocodile skinks have small “plates” on their backs resembling the plates of the dinosaurs in the Stegosaurus genus, which had broad, upright plates and spiked tails
|Scientific name||Bucerotidae (family)|
|Unique feature||Long, down-curved bill|
|Distribution||Tropical and subtropical Africa, Melanesia, and Asia|
Hornbills form the Bucerotidae family of tropical and subtropical birds that, in turn, consists of around 55 species. They have black, white, brown, or gray plumage. Their brightly colored, long, down-curved bills distinguish them from other birds.
These birds are believed to resemble pterosaurs – flying reptiles that went extinct around 66 million years ago. Even though pterosaurs aren’t officially considered descendants of Saurischia and Ornithischia like dinosaurs, they’re more closely related to dinosaurs and birds than crocodiles or other extant reptiles.
10. Frilled Lizard
|Scientific name||Chlamydosaurus kingii|
|Other common names||Frill-necked lizard|
|Native to||Northern Australia and southern New Guinea|
The frilled lizard, known as the frill-necked lizard, is a large lizard in the Agamidae family. It can reach lengths of up to 2.79 feet! It’s brown or gray and has darker spots that make it look like tree bark.
The ruff of skin folded back against the lizards’ necks and heads are called the neck frill. It is red, yellow, orange, or white. It makes them similar to dinosaurs, specifically those in the Dilophosaurus genus you’ve read about or seen in the “Jurassic Park” novel or movie adaptation. However, even though the dinosaur appears to have a neck frill, scientists aren’t completely sure this prehistoric animal possessed it, as there’s no evidence. Still, until there’s no certainty on this matter, we can say frilled lizards resemble dinosaurs!
|Scientific name||Cingulata (order)|
|Unique feature||Leathery armor shell, long claws used for digging|
|Native to||South America|
Armadillos are small animals, usually reaching lengths of only 30 inches. However, they weigh much more! The giant armadillo, for instance, can weigh as much as 119 pounds! The three-banded armadillo species is the most commonly owned armadillo.
These animals are said to resemble aetosaurs. Besides having a somewhat similar appearance, aetosaurs are believed to have fed on insects, just like armadillos. This is shown in a study of the jaw biomechanics of the Neoaetosauroides genus of aetosaurs. The scientists indicated that these dinosaurs’ jaws weren’t designed for crushing or chopping, so they resorted to insects without hard exoskeletons.
12. Sailfin Lizard
|Scientific name||Hydrosaurus (genus)|
|Other common names||Sailfin dragon|
|Native to||Indonesia, Philippines|
There are five sailfin lizard species:
- Hydrosaurus amboinensis
- Hydrosaurus celebensis
- Hydrosaurus microlophus
- Hydrosaurus pustulatus
- Hydrosaurus weberi
These lizards have a dinosaur look! The fan-like sail on male lizards makes them similar to the spinosaurid dinosaurs in the Spinosaurus extinct genus. These dinosaurs had tall neural spines that grew on the back vertebrae.
The sailfin lizard population is threatened by habitat loss and wild animal trade.
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- Pet Helpful, Available here: https://pethelpful.com/exotic-pets/Pets-You-Can-Own-that-Look-Like-Dinosaurs-and-Prehistoric-Animals