The dinosaur [from Jurrasic Park] is mostly imagination, but a new comprehensive analysis of Dilophosaurus fossils is helping to set the record straight. Far from the small lizard-like dinosaur in the movies, the actual Dilophosaurus was the largest land animal of its time, reaching up to 20 feet in length, and it had much in common with modern birds.
“It’s pretty much the best, worst-known dinosaur,” said lead author Adam Marsh. “Until this study, nobody knew what Dilophosaurus looked like or how it evolved.”
Early descriptions characterize the dinosaur as having a fragile crest and weak jaws, a description that influenced the depiction of Dilophosaurus in the “Jurassic Park” book and movie as a svelte dinosaur that subdued its prey with venom.
But Marsh found the opposite. The jawbones show signs of serving as scaffolding for powerful muscles. He also found that some bones were mottled with air pockets, which would have helped reinforce the skeleton, including its dual crest.
“They’re kind of like bubble wrap – the bone is protected and strengthened,” Marsh said.
These air sacs are not unique to Dilophosaurus. Modern birds and the world’s most massive dinosaurs also have bones filled with air. In both cases, the air sacs lighten the load, which helped big dinosaurs manage their bulky bodies and birds take to the skies.