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Dinosaur Institute Contact Information

General Inquiries

dinosaur@nhm.org

In The Field

The Dinosaur Institute team recently returned from a three-week dinosaur dig in the Jurassic outcrops of Utah.

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What are we preparing in the Dino Lab?

This bone is a humerus (upper arm bone) of a long necked brachiosaur. It takes a lot of work to clean a bone this big. Learn more >

Current Research

We are currently studying a new species of an ornithischian dinosaur (lower jaw pictured above). It is the smallest known dinosaur from North America and one of the tiniest dinosaurs ever found.

Dinosaurs on the Loose!

Witness Dinosaur Encounters Saturdays and Sundays in the North American Mammal Hall, Level 2.
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Dinosaur Institute FAQs

What is a dinosaur?

Dinosaurs were land reptiles that became the dominant group of terrestrial vertebrates during the Mesozoic Era, 250-65.5 million years ago. Today, they are represented by their descendants, the birds. During the Mesozoic Era, there was a great diversity of sizes, shapes, and lifestyles among dinosaurs. Adults ranged in size from over 100 feet long and thousands of pounds, like Argentinosaurus, to less than three feet long and a few pounds, like the Microraptor. Their lifestyles were also very diverse; some were strictly plant-eaters while others were strictly meat-eaters, some ate both plants and animals, and some had very specific diets.  We will never know exactly what dinosaurs looked like when they were alive but with their fossil remains we can hypothesize about how they may have looked. For example, we now know that some dinosaurs had feathers!

Where and when did dinosaurs live?

Most dinosaurs lived between 230 and 65.5 million years ago during the Mesozoic Era but their descendants, the birds, are represented by nearly 10,000 living species. Mesozoic dinosaurs lived all over the world, in both tropical and polar regions, and different species inhabited different environments and territories, just like their modern day descendants.

What caused dinosaurs to go extinct?

Many dinosaur species evolved and became extinct over the span 165 million years during the Mesozoic Era. Iconic dinosaurs like Triceratops and Stegosaurus became extinct millions of years apart. There are many hypotheses about what may have caused the large dinosaurs — together with many other species — to go extinct at the end of the Mesozoic Era. The last species of large Mesozoic dinosaurs became extinct during a dramatic event at the end of the era that caused the disappearance of nearly fifty percent of all life at the time. A large meteorite impacted the Earth 65.5 million years ago creating devastating environmental disruptions that most likely drove the last remaining dinosaurs to extinction. However, dinosaur diversity had been diminishing for millions of years before the meteorite impact, so other factors that disrupted their environment and habitat probably contributed to their eventual extinction.

What is a fossil?

A fossil is evidence of an organism that lived in the past. Most fossils are preserved as a result of a process in which they are mineralized, meaning the materials they are composed of are replaced by different minerals. However, other fossils are not mineralized parts but are evidence of behaviors, such as footprints and nests. These fossils are called fossil traces. While most dinosaur remains are represented by mineralized bones, there are many other kinds of fossils such as teeth, eggs, skin impressions, and even fossilized feces called coprolites.

Where are dinosaur fossils found?

Dinosaurs lived all over the world. To find their fossils you must look for areas of exposed sedimentary rock. Explore mountains, canyons, riverbanks, deserts, or eroded hillsides. Most dinosaur fossils are found in arid regions where there is little ground cover and where the fossiliferous rock layers are most likely to be exposed. Dinosaur fossils are found on all continents, although different species of dinosaurs usually have a rather restricted distribution. Many well known dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus rex and Triceratops are only found in the western United States.

Are there any dinosaurs alive today?

There is abundant evidence to support the belief that birds are the living descendants of Mesozoic dinosaurs. This evidence comes from scientific disciplines as disparate as anatomy and genomics. In light of this evidence, most scientists regard birds as living dinosaurs. However, all the large Mesozoic dinosaurs, like T. rex, have been extinct for millions of years.

What kinds of dinosaurs have been found in California?

California was largely underwater during much of the Mesozoic Era. Because dinosaurs are land animals, only a few remains of coastal dinosaurs, the carcasses of which washed into the sea, have been preserved. But this evidence indicates that many kinds of dinosaurs inhabited coastal regions that are today inland areas of California. The Dinosaur Institute houses one of the best preserved hadrosaur skeletons from California, a middle-sized duckbill. Also, skeletons of many large marine reptiles that lived at the same time as the dinosaurs are found in California.

What is paleontology and what do paleontologists do?

Paleontology is the study of prehistoric life. A paleontologist is a person who studies and interprets ancient fossil remains in order to learn about the world in the distant past. There are paleontologists who study the very beginnings of life on Earth and those who study the plants and animals that lived only 10,000 years ago. Through their research we learn much about the diversity and evolution of life on Earth.

How can I become a paleontologist?

Researchers in paleontology often have a Ph.D. in paleontology or a related discipline within the earth or biological sciences. However, there are many careers in paleontology that do not require a Ph.D. Professional careers within paleontology include digging in the field, preparing fossils in a lab, working with museum collections, and illustrating and reconstructing prehistoric life. These careers don't require a Ph.D. but it is always helpful to pursue formal training in either biology or geology. If you are interested in paleontology get involved by volunteering at a museum or participating on a dig to see what it's really like to be a paleontologist!