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Dilophosaurus

die - LOH - foh - SAW - rus

Theropoda/Coelophysoidae
Copyright 2007

Field Notes

Name Means: "Two-crested lizard"
Length: 20 feet (6 m)
Diet: Carnivore (Meat-Eater)
Time: Early Jurassic
Location: Arizona, USA; China

Fossils of Dilophosaurus, one of the earliest of the large theropods, were first found in 1942, in early Jurassic sediments in Arizona. More recently, remains of this animal have also been discovered in China. It was a close relative of Coelophysis, and, like this earlier dinosaur, had four fingers on each hand. The fourth finger, however, was very small and probably had no function.

A pair of paper-thin crests ran along the top of Dilophosaurus's snout, projecting behind the eyes. It is these crests that gave the dinosaur its name. Other coelophysoids, such as Syntarsus, a contemporary of Dilophosaurus, had similar crests, but those of Dilophosaurus were larger and more extensive. We do not know what function these crests may have served, but we can tell that they were very delicate structures that had shallow pits and holes which may have served as air sacs.

These pits are more apparent in the Chinese specimen, but they are also clearly noticeable on the specimens from Arizona. It is possible that Dilophosaurus utilized its crests as a signaling device - to distinguish one species from another. Alternatively, it may have used them as a way of telling males and females apart.

Dilophosaurus had long, sharp, pointed teeth. However, it probably did not use its teeth to kill its victims; some scientists have suggested that its jaws were not strong enough to enable it to have fed on live prey. It probably used its clawed hands and feet to kill its victims and then fed on their carcasses. It may also have scavenged animals killed by other predators.

In the movie Jurassic Park, Dilophosaurus is depicted with an extendable frill - rather like that of an Australian frillnecked lizard - and also as spitting poison. However, imagination has ruled the day here for there is no evidence for either of these features. The idea that it spat venom may have resulted from suggestions that, as it seemed unable to attack live animals with its teeth and jaws, it killed them with poison. However, as no living crocodylian or bird is known to use venom in this way, there can be no reason to suppose that Dilophosaurus did.

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