An Ultimate Guide to Dilophosaurus: Two-Ridged Lizard

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Name Meaning“Double-Crested Lizard”Height2 meters (6.5 feet) 
PronunciationDie-loh-foh-SAWR-usLength6–7 meters (20–23 feet)
EraMesozoicEarly JurassicWeight400 kilograms (880 lbs)
ClassificationDinosauria,‭ Saurischia & TheropodaLocationNorth America (USA)

Dilophosaurus Pictures

Dilophosaurus | dottedhippo via iStock

The Dilophosaurus

Gage Beasley Prehistoric's Dilophosaurus Concept
Gage Beasley Prehistoric’s Dilophosaurus Concept

Long before iconic dinosaurs like the Allosaurus and Tyrannosaurus rex became the dominant land predators in North America, a smaller but equally intimidating theropod dinosaur ruled the Northern Hemisphere.

 A fast-moving carnivorous dinosaur named Dilophosaurus was the top predator in North America during the Jurassic Period. 

The theropod dinosaur lived in the present-day United States about 195 million years ago and was one of the fiercest dinosaurs around. 

Dilophosaurus was also one of the earliest large predators of the Jurassic Period. 

The dinosaur’s name means “double-crested lizard,” referring to its prominent head crest made up of two thin bony crests running from its snout all the way to the back of its eye socket. 

Dilophosaurus on white background
Dilophosaurus on white background | Kitti Kahotong via iStock

Dilophosaurus was first discovered in the summer of 1942 during an exploration led by Paleontologist Charles L. Camp

Dilophosaurus is one of the best-known dinosaurs to the general public due to various pop culture references, including a famous appearance in a Jurassic Park movie. 

It is also well-studied, and recent research has revealed some interesting facts that change a lot of what was previously known about this dinosaur. 

In this post, we’ll detail some of the fascinating facts about the Dilophosaurus and its ecological role in North America’s Jurassic ecosystem.

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Gage Beasley’s Prehistoric Plush Collection

Physical Characteristics

Jurassic Park version of Dilophosaurus
Jurassic Park version of Dilophosaurus | Image via Jurassic Park/Universal Studios

The Jurassic Park version of the Dilophosaurus got many things about this dinosaur wrong, starting with its appearance.

In the movies, it was depicted as a diminutive dinosaur roughly the height of an average human. 

The dinosaur also had a neck frill and was capable of spitting venom. 

The real-life version of the Dilophosaurus did not look anything like this. 

It was a medium-sized carnivore. 

Although smaller compared to later theropods like the Allosaurus and Tyrannosaurus, it was still large by Jurassic standards. 

In fact, the Dilophosaurus was the largest terrestrial animal on the North American continent during the Early Jurassic Period. 

Gage Beasley Prehistoric's Dilophosaurus Concept
Gage Beasley Prehistoric’s Dilophosaurus Size Comparison Chart

The bear-sized carnivore measured about seven meters (23 feet) in length and weighed as much as 400 kilograms (880 pounds). 

Based on these size estimates, it was roughly half the size of an adult T. rex

Compared to the rest of its body, the Dilophosaurus’s head was quite big and was arguably its most prominent feature. 

The skull of the largest specimen was about 23 inches long. 

At the top of the Dilophosaurus’ head was a pair of rounded crests. 

Experts think the size of the crest probably varied from males to females, which has prompted speculations that the crest was used for display purposes. 

The dinosaur’s name, which translates as a double-crested lizard, is a reference to this prominent crest.

Dilophosaurus showing its predator body
Dilophosaurus showing its predator body | dottedhippo via iStock

Scientists are not exactly sure of the crest’s shape because it was probably covered externally with a keratin material (similar to the horns of rhinos). 

It’s also likely that the headgear was brightly colored for display purposes.

The rest of the Dilophosaurus was slender, with a typical theropod build. 

The dinosaur had a long neck and a flexible neck. 

The hindlimbs were long and muscular, indicating that the dinosaur was probably a fast runner. In contrast, the forelimbs were quite small. 

The Dilophosaurus’ hands had four fingers, each of which had sharp, curved claws useful for slashing prey. 

Habitat and Distribution

Dilophosaurus lived during the Early Jurassic Period and was one of the largest land animals around at the time.

Fossils of this dinosaur have been found in present-day North America, particularly in the Southwestern United States. 

Based on the distribution of the fossil remains found so far, the dinosaur’s range probably covered parts of present-day Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico. 

These areas and the rest of North America were once part of the supercontinent Pangaea which was in the process of breaking apart during the Early Jurassic Period. 

The specific habitat of the Dilophosaurus is often characterized as a mix of floodplains, open plains, and forests. 

Dilophosaurus in the jungle
Dilophosaurus in the jungle | Kitti Kahotong via iStock

The landscape of the Early Jurassic Period was just starting to transform from the relatively arid conditions of the Late Triassic Period to a more humid climate. 

Global temperatures were still quite high during this period 

Dilophosaurus lived during a time of recovery for Earth’s ecosystems. 

The dinosaur emerged after the Late Triassic extinction event wiped out most of the living species at the time. 

The Early Jurassic ecosystem was starting to come to life with the appearance of various groups of dinosaurs, crocodilians, and other reptiles. 

Most of these emerging animal groups were smaller in size compared to the Dilophosaurus

Behavior and Diet

Dilophosaurus looking for a prey in the forest
Dilophosaurus looking for a prey in the forest | Maksim Shchur via iStock

Dilophosaurus had long hindlimbs and relatively short forelimbs, meaning it was a bipedal dinosaur. 

This dinosaur’s lightweight build and muscular hind limbs suggest it was an agile runner. 

Although their forelimbs were not useful for locomotion, they were powerful weapons for taking down prey. 

Dilophosaurus probably moved by walking and running swiftly while using its muscular tail for balance and stability.

Due to limited fossil evidence, it’s hard to tell if the Dilophosaurus lived in groups or were solitary hunters. 

Based on the interpretation of the function of their crest, Dillophosaurus may have exhibited limited social interactions, especially during mating season. 

Dilophosaurus was a carnivorous dinosaur whose diet consisted of other animals in its ecosystem. 

Based on its size and skeletal features, experts think it must have been an apex predator like other large theropod dinosaurs that lived after it. 

Bipedal predator Dilophosaurus running
Bipedal predator Dilophosaurus running | dottedhippo via iStock

Early studies of this dinosaur’s cranial structure suggest it did not have a powerful bite. The Dilophosaurus had a kink in its upper jaw called the subnarial gap. 

This kink suggests that this dinosaur did not have a strong bite. 

The front premaxillary teeth of the Dilophosaurus were useful for plucking and tearing prey but not for biting, while the maxillary teeth were effective for piercing and slicing. 

Despite the relatively weak bite force, Dilophosaurus was still an active predator. 

Recent studies have likened the dinosaur’s dentition to that of crocodilians and felids, effective for gripping or holding to subdue them. 

The long and sharp claws on the hands and feet of the Dilophosaurus may have helped with taking down prey too. 

Some experts think the Dilphosaurus most likely targeted small to medium-sized prey. 

However, it may have been capable of killing larger prey too.

Other feeding habits, such as a piscivore or scavenger lifestyle, have also been put forward for this dinosaur.

Life Cycle

Restoration of an adult Dilophosaurus tending to its hatching
Restoration of an adult Dilophosaurus tending to its hatching | Adam D. Marsh and Timothy B. Rowe via Wikipedia C BY 4.0

Dilophosaurus reproduced sexually. 

Although fossil evidence does not provide direct insights into the reproductive behavior of this genus, Dilophosaurus likely engaged in some form of sexual display prior to mating.

In addition to their prominent cranial crest, which was probably brightly colored to attract mates, scientists think there were inflatable air sacs connected to nasal passages on the Dilophosaurus’ skull. 

These sacs are similar to those seen in many modern frigate birds. 

These elaborate structures would have been helpful for attracting mates and may have varied in size from one individual to the other depending on age and sex. 

Dilophosaurus probably laid eggs after mating like other theropods. 

They likely built nests on the ground for their nests, but there’s no evidence of parental care during incubation and after the eggs hatch.

Dilophosaurus on display at the Royal Ontario Museum
Dilophosaurus on display at the Royal Ontario Museum | Eduard Solà via Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0

Fossils of juvenile Dilophosaurus are known from fossil records.

Studies on these fossils suggest that the young dinosaurs grew rapidly, at a growth rate of up to 30 to 35 kilograms (66 to 77 pounds) yearly during their early years. 

Scientists also observed air pockets in the braincase and other bones of this dinosaur. 

It is believed that the air pockets made it possible for prehistoric animals like the theropods to attain such great sizes without getting crippled under their own weight as they developed.

Evolution and History

Dilophosaurus and other basal theropod dinosaurs like the Cryolophosaurus and Spinosaurus are known for their cranial crests. 

Experts have theorized that their crests were either inherited from common ancestors or it’s an example of convergent evolution. 

These crested dinosaurs were among the few theropods that survived the Triassic-Jurassic extinction event. 

Their emergence in the Jurassic is often characterized by a sudden increase in their body size. 

Gage Beasley's Dilophosaurus Stuffed Plush Toy
Gage Beasley’s Dilophosaurus Stuffed Plush Toy

Scientists have found that this increase in size coincides with the disappearance of large crocodilian predators that were the dominant predators during the Triassic Period. With the apex predators gone, the early theropods like the Dilophosaurus evolved to fill the available niche. 

Despite this initial success, the crested dinosaurs lost their place as the top dogs with the emergence of larger and more advanced species like the Allosaurus and Ceratosaurus

These later theropods evolved to be bigger with better skull shapes and more efficient hunting strategies.

They also didn’t have head crests for sexual display. Instead, they developed feathers that were more effective for display purposes and less biologically expensive compared to bony crests.

Interactions With Other Species

Dilophosaurus showing its magnificent crest
Dilophosaurus showing its magnificent crest | Sebastian Kaulitzki via GettyImages

Dilophosaurus was the largest carnivore on the North American landscape during the Early Jurassic Period. 

Expectedly, it was the top predator in its ecosystem. 

Many reptilians, crocodylomorphs, and dinosaurs were just starting to emerge after the end Triassic extinction events, but the Dilophosaurus was the largest predator around. 

Amphibians like the salamanders and the frog Prosalirus lived on the margins of aquatic and terrestrial habitats. 

Early crocodylomorphs such as the Calsoyasuchus, Eopneumatosuchus, and Postosuchus were also present, while the early mammals were starting to emerge further inland.  

Gage Beasley's Dilophosaurus Stuffed Plush Toys
Gage Beasley’s Dilophosaurus Stuffed Plush Toys

Other theropod dinosaurs like the Megapnosaurus and Kayentavenator lived in North America during the Early Jurassic. 

These carnivores may have competed for the same prey as the Dilophosaurus. They were smaller in size and probably targeted smaller prey. 

A lot of herbivorous species also lived alongside the Dilophosaurus. They include early sauropodomorphs like Sarahsaurus and heterodonts. 

Cultural Significance

Despite limited fossil remains, scientists now have a clearer picture of what this dinosaur may have looked like and how it lived. 

But even before accurate scientific knowledge was available, the Dilophosaurus became one of the most well-known dinosaurs to the general public. 

Artist sketch of matured Dilophosaurus
Artist sketch of matured Dilophosaurus | Sebastian Kaulitzki via GettyImages

In 1990, Michael Crichton published the Jurassic Park Novel, which described many dinosaur species that were hardly known to the general public at the time. 

One of them was the Dilophosaurus

The novel version was a 10-foot-tall creature capable of spitting venomous saliva at its prey. 

With the movie version of the Dilophosaurus, the producers of the movie fictionalized the dinosaur entirely, so it looked nothing like the original. 

The movie featured a Dilophosaurus about the size of a golden retriever with a prominent rattling frill. 

Like in the book, the on-screen version retained the ability to shoot venomous spit at prey. 

Due to the extremely fictionalized appearance of the Dilophosaurus, Paleontologist Adam Marsh has described it as the “best worst-known dinosaur.”

Dilophosaurus dinosaur, side view on white background | Robert Fabiani via GettyImages

The obvious difference in the appearance of the Dilophosaurus was partly due to limited scientific knowledge at the time the movie was produced and also a deliberate attempt to avoid any mixup between the Dilophosaurus and the Velociraptor

Since the movie’s release, several new pieces of information have emerged about this dinosaur’s appearance and lifestyle that have helped scientists piece together a more accurate picture of the dinosaurs’ life. 


Dilophosaurus was a carnivorous dinosaur that lived during the Early Jurassic Period. 

The emergence of this dinosaur occurred less than 15 years after the end-Triassic mass extinction event. 

Expectedly, the large carnivore was perfectly positioned to become the apex predator of the Early Jurassic Period and ruled the North American landscape for a few million years after that. 

It was a bipedal predator capable of chasing prey swiftly and gripping them in its jaw. 

The Dilophosaurus also had massive claws on its hand for slashing at prey. 

The dinosaur’s diet may have included reptiles, crocodylomorphs, small mammals, as well as other dinosaurs. 

Dilophosaurus remains one of the best-known dinosaurs today, thanks to a cameo in the Jurassic Park novel and movie. 

The obvious scientific inaccuracies in the dinosaur’s depiction did not diminish the dinosaur’s popularity in any way. 

The Dilophosaurus’ role as a top predator would later pave the way for other large theropods like the Allosaurus and the iconic T. rex


How tall was the real Dilophosaurus?

The Dilophosaurus was a medium-sized dinosaur. It stood at a height of about 6 feet (1.8 meters) at the hip.

Did Dilophosaurus have feathers?

Although later theropods like the Coelophysis had feathers, there’s no evidence that the Dilophosaurus did. 

Their cranial crests were probably brightly colored and were used for attracting mates. 

Is Dilophosaurus the state fossil of Connecticut? 

Dinosaur tracks that resemble those of the Dilophosaurus represent the official state fossil of Connecticut.

The Dilophosaurus is also recognized as the official dinosaur of the state. 


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