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The 10 Smartest Dinosaurs

The Most Intelligent Dinosaurs that Ever Lived

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How could dinosaurs possibly have been smart? Pound for pound, they were some of the dumbest creatures ever to roam the planet. However, not all raptors, tyrannosaurs, stegosaurs and hadrosaurs were equally stupid; some may even (just barely) have attained a mammalian level of intelligence. Here's a list of the 10 smartest dinosaurs, based on an analysis of their anatomy and behavioral patterns. (See an article discussing dinosaur intelligence.)

1. Troodon

troodon

Troodon, a human-sized theropod of the Cretaceous period, has become the poster lizard for dinosaur intelligence. Judging by its predatory arsenal--big eyes, fast speed, and stereo vision--paleontologists believe Troodon must have possessed an especially big brain, "big" in this context meaning about the size of a modern opossum's (which, for its size, still placed Troodon well ahead of other dinosaurs). More about Troodon

2. Deinonychus

deinonychus

Despite what you saw in Jurassic Park, Deinonychus wasn't nearly clever enough to turn a doorknob (the "Velociraptors" in Steven Spielberg's movie were actually played by this much bigger raptor). But there's convincing evidence that Deinonychus hunted in packs in pursuit of the herbivorous dinosaur Tenontosaurus, which must have entailed a certain level of strategic thinking and communication, and hence a bigger brain. More about Deinonychus

3. Compsognathus

compsognathus

When it comes to dinosaur intelligence, it's not how big your brain is compared to other reptiles, but how big your brain is compared to the rest of your body. In this respect, the tiny, chicken-sized early dinosaur Compsognathus appears to have been an honor student, perhaps as smart as a very dumb mouse (and yes, in the Mesozoic Era, this was enough to land you in the advanced-placement class). More about Compsognathus

4. Tyrannosaurus Rex

tyrannosaurus rex
Wikimedia Commons

You wouldn't think Tyrannosaurus Rex had to be particularly smart to hunt down its food--after all, this was the apex predator of its day, equipped with huge teeth, powerful legs, and a keen sense of smell. But judging by an analysis of existing skulls, T. Rex seems to have had a fairly large brain by Cretaceous standards (although today it would be outwitted by a newborn kitten). More about Tyrannosaurus Rex

5. Oviraptor

oviraptor
Wikimedia Commons

As a general rule, even the dumbest birds alive today are brainier than the dumbest dinosaurs. By this token, the feathered Oviraptor (which was not technically a raptor, by the way) must have been one of the most intelligent dinosaurs of the late Cretaceous period; for instance, it was one of the few creatures smart enough to sit on its own eggs until they hatched. More about Oviraptor

6. Maiasaura

maiasaura
Royal Ontario Museum

It takes a certain amount of intelligence (combined with instinct, of course) to migrate in large herds, dig out nesting grounds, and tend to your young after they've hatched. By those standards, Maiasaura must have been one of the most intelligent hadrosaurs of Cretaceous times; "Egg Mountain" in Montana is a testament to this dinosaur's advanced level of parental care. More about Maiasaura

7. Allosaurus

allosaurus

Allosaurus wasn't as quite as intelligent as T. Rex, which appeared on the scene tens of millions of years later (paleontologists have found numerous Allosaurus skeletons at a site in Utah; the theory is that they stopped to feast on herbivorous dinosaurs trapped in the mud and stupidly wound up getting stuck themselves). But fast, agile theropods tended to have fairly large brains, and Allosaurus was nothing if not fast and agile. More about Allosaurus

8. Ornithomimus

ornithomimus
Julio Lacerda

The "bird mimics," of which Ornithomimus was the poster genus, were large, fast, two-legged theropods of the Cretaceous period that resembled (and behaved like) ostriches. In fact, from the size of its brain cavity, scientists believe Ornithomimus may have been nearly as smart as a modern ostrich--which would have made it the Albert Einstein of the Mesozoic Era. More about Ornithomimus

9. Tarchia

tarchia
Gondwana Studios

The only ankylosaur on this list, Tarchia (Chinese for "brainy") was so named because its brain appears to have been a smidgen bigger than those of other armored dinosaurs. Ankylosaurs were spectacularly dumb creatures, though, so what this means is that if Tarchia had studied really hard, it might have had a successful career as a giant paperweight. More about Tarchia

10. Barney

barney
PBS

The only dinosaur ever to evolve the ability to sing and dance, Barney has been a fixture on public TV for almost 20 years, a tribute to this unspecified species' intelligence, savvy, and management team. Based on a careful analysis of his PBS show, scientists have concluded that Barney possesses an almost human-sized brain, albeit slightly atrophied from extended exposure to adorable toddlers. More about Barney

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