Discover 12 Modern-Day Animals That Look Like Dinosaurs!

Written by Jeremiah Wright
Updated: April 30, 2023
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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!

Infographic showing twelve modern animals that look like dinosaurs.
These twelve animals look like they come straight out of a prehistoric book!

1. Green Basilisk

Best lizards - Green Basilisk

Green basilisks have bright green bodies and black and white streaks along their backs and necks.


Green Basilisk
Scientific nameBasiliscus plumifrons
Animal typeReptile
Other common namesPlumed basilisk, double-crested basilisk, Jesus Christ lizard
Native toCentral America
Resembling dinosaurParasaurolophus

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.

2. Emu

Birds that can't fly: Emu

Emus have long necks and legs.


Scientific nameDromaius novaehollandiae
Animal typeBird
Unique featureThree toes on each leg
Native toAustralia
Resembling dinosaurTheropods

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

Northern Caiman Lizard (Dracaena guianensis)

Caiman lizards can grow as large as 4 feet and weigh as much as 10 pounds.

©Philip Bird LRPS CPAGB/

Caiman Lizard
Scientific nameDracaena (genus)
Animal typeReptile
Other common namesWater tegus
DistributionSouth America

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 turtles usually have broad, flattened, black, or brown carapaces.

© Griffiths

Eastern Long-Necked Turtle
Scientific nameChelodina longicollis
Animal typeReptile
Unique featureBends its head sideways into its shell, unlike other turtles that pull it back
Native toSoutheastern Australia
Resembling dinosaurSauropods, 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

Ugliest Animal - Matamata Turtle

The mata mata turtle has a triangular, flattened head with flaps of skin and tubercles.

©volkova natalia/

Mata Mata Turtle
Scientific nameChelus fimbriata
Animal typeReptile
Other common namesMata mata, matamata, mata-mata
DistributionSouth 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



iguanas have four legs, large and heavy heads, and vertically flattened tails.


Rhinoceros Iguana
Scientific nameCyclura cornuta
Animal typeReptile
Unique featureBony-plated pseudo-horn on its snout
Native toThe Caribbean
Resembling dinosaursCeratosaurs, 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.

7. Caiman

Largest Caiman - Broad-Snouted Caiman

Caimans belong to the



©Ricardo de Paula Ferreira/

Scientific nameCaimaninae (subfamily)
Animal typeReptile; alligatorid
Other common namesCayman
DistributionMexico, 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

Crocodile Skink Lizard sunbathing on moss.


skinks exhibit a unique feature of playing dead when startled.

©Kurit afshen/

Crocodile Skink
Scientific nameTribolonotus gracilis
Animal typeReptile
Other common namesRed-eyed crocodile skink
Native toNew Guinea
Resembling dinosaurStegosaurus

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

9. Hornbill


Hornbills form the


family of tropical and subtropical birds.

©Martin Mecnarowski/

Scientific nameBucerotidae (family)
Animal typeBird
Unique featureLong, down-curved bill
DistributionTropical and subtropical Africa, Melanesia, and Asia
Resembling dinosaurPterosaur

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

Frilled lizard in grass

The frilled lizard is a large lizard in the



©Hadrani Hasan/

Frilled Lizard
Scientific nameChlamydosaurus kingii
Animal typeReptile
Other common namesFrill-necked lizard
Native toNorthern Australia and southern New Guinea
Resembling dinosaurDilophosaurus

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 is 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!

11. Armadillo

Animals With the Toughest Skin-Armadillo

Armadillos are small animals, usually reaching lengths of only 30 inches.

© Kools

Scientific nameCingulata (order)
Animal typeMammal
Unique featureLeathery armor shell, long claws used for digging
Native toSouth America
Resembling dinosaurAetosaur

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

Lizards Look Like Dragons - Sailfin Dragon

The sailfin lizard population is threatened by habitat loss and wild animal trade.

©Andi Siady Hamzah/

Sailfin Lizard
Scientific nameHydrosaurus (genus)
Animal typeReptile
Other common namesSailfin dragon
Native toIndonesia, Philippines
Resembling dinosaurSpinosaurus

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.

Summary of 12 Modern-Day Animals That Look Like Dinosaurs

1Green Basilisk
3Caiman Lizard
4Eastern Long-Necked Turtle
5Mata Mata Turtle
6Rhinoceros Iguana
8Crocodile Skink
10Frilled Lizard
12Sailfin Lizard

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Ondrej Prosicky/

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About the Author

I hold seven years of professional experience in the content world, focusing on nature, and wildlife. Asides from writing, I enjoy surfing the internet and listening to music.

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