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Distinguishing Dinos

December 8, 2015

A listener asks how paleontologists know which species a dinosaur’s bones belong to.



Therosaurus anglicus teeth discovered by either Gideon Mantell or Mary Ann Mantell in the 1820s were once though to belong to an iguanodon. They are some of the first dinosaur fossils ever described.


Discriminating dinosaurs. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Paleontologists rarely find intact dinosaur skeletons; they find bits and pieces, often from many different animals. A Science Update listener called to ask how they can tell if they’ve found a new species, or just an immature or deformed member of a known one. Paleontologist Joe Sertich, at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, says he and his colleagues rely on museum collections all over the world.

JOE SERTICH (Denver Museum of Science and Natural History):

And we can go and compare our new species to all the other dinosaurs that have ever been found to really firmly establish that it’s different. And that’s really hard; it’s not an easy task.


He says bones look similar to a layperson often have telltale features that determine their species—regardless of their age or condition.  If you’ve got a science question, call us at 1-800-WHY-ISIT or email us from our website, scienceupdate dot com. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.