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North American Dinosaurs

The 10 Most Important Dinosaurs of North America


A huge variety of dinosaurs lived in North America during the Mesozoic Era. Here's an alphabetical list of the 10 most important (and most influential) North American dinosaurs, ranging from Allosaurus to Tyrannosaurus Rex.

1. Allosaurus

American Museum of Natural History

The most famous carnivorous dinosaur that wasn't T. Rex, Allosaurus was a major instigator of the 19th-century "Bone Wars," the lifelong feud between the famous paleontologists Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel C. Marsh. Like a crocodile, this fierce predator constantly grew, shed and replaced its teeth--specimens of which you can still buy on the open market. More about Allosaurus

2. Ankylosaurus


As is the case with many North American dinosaurs, Ankylosaurus has lent its name to an entire dinosaur family--the ankylosaurs, which were characterized by their tough armor, clubbed tails, low-slung bodies and unusually small brains. As important as it is from an historical perspective, though, Ankylosaurus isn't as well understood as another armored dinosaur of North America, Euoplocephalus. More about Ankylosaurus

3. Coelophysis

London Natural History Museum

Although Coelophysis was far from the first theropod dinosaur--that honor belonged to earlier South American genera like Eoraptor and Herrerasaurus--this tiny meat-eater has had a disproportionate impact on paleontology, ever since thousands of Coelophysis bones were unearthed in New Mexico's Ghost Ranch quarry. More about Coelophysis

4. Deinonychus


Until the central Asian Velociraptor stole the spotlight, Deinonychus was the world's most famous raptor, a lithe, vicious, relentless carnivore that probably hunted in packs. Significantly, Deinonychus was the genus that inspired the American paleontologist John H. Ostrom to speculate that modern birds evolved from dinosaurs. More about Deinonychus

5. Diplodocus


One of the first sauropods ever to be discovered, in Colorado's portion of the Morrison Formation, Diplodocus remains one of the best known--thanks to the fact that the American industrialist Andrew Carnegie donated copies of its skeleton to various natural history museums. It may yet turn out that other huge sauropods (like Seismosaurus) were really species of Diplodocus. More about Diplodocus

6. Maiasaura

Royal Ontario Museum

As you can guess from its name--Greek for "good mother lizard"--Maiasaura is famous for what its fossils tell us about hadrosaur child-rearing behavior. Discovered by the famous paleontologist Jack Horner, Montana's "Egg Mountain" has yielded hundreds of skeletons of this duck-billed dinosaur, including babies, juveniles, adults of both sexes and, yes, unhatched eggs. More about Maiasaura

7. Ornithomimus


Yet another dinosaur that has lent its name to an entire family--the ornithomimids, or "bird mimics"--Ornithomimus was a large, ostrich-like, omnivorous theropod that galloped across the North American plains in vast herds. This dinosaur may have been capable of hitting top speeds in excess of 30 miles per hour, especially when it was being pursued by hungry raptors. More about Ornithomimus

8. Stegosaurus

Senckenberg Museum

The most famous of the stegosaurs--the spiked, plated dinosaurs--Stegosaurus had much in common with the equally influential Ankylosaurus, especially as regards its unusually small brain. So dimwitted was Stegosaurus that paleontologists once speculated that it harbored a second brain in its posterior, one of the field's more spectacular blunders. More about Stegosaurus

9. Triceratops


How all-American is Triceratops? Well, this most famous of the ceratopsians--the horned, frilled dinosaurs--is a major draw on the international auction market, where complete skeletons sell for millions of dollars. As to why Triceratops had such imposing horns, these were probably a sexually selected characteristic--that is, males with bigger horns had more success hooking up with females. More about Triceratops

10. Tyrannosaurus Rex

tyrannosaurus rex
Wikimedia Commons

Tyrannosaurus Rex isn't only the most famous North American dinosaur; it's the most famous dinosaur in the entire world, thanks to its frequent appearances in movies, TV shows, books and video games. Amazingly, T. Rex has maintained its edge with the public even after the discovery of bigger, scarier theropods like the African Spinosaurus and the South American Giganotosaurus. More about Tyrannosaurus Rex

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