Exploring a Dinosaur Habitat: 15 Places You’ve Yet to See

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Where did dinosaurs live? Tropical climates, thick jungles, and wide river deltas are usually the first things that come to mind.

But is that all? Don’t worry because there’s more.

Dinosaur fossils have been found in a lot of other exciting places like badlands and riparian forests. Did you know fossils have been found in the polar regions too?

Come and join us on an exciting expedition as we explore the different dinosaur habitats and learn about the dinosaur ecosystem. We’ve organized the places we’ll visit by the types of dinosaurs who lived there so you can appreciate their prehistoric abodes better.

Are you in? Let’s go!

Habitats of Water Dinosaurs

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There’s actually only one specific dinosaur known to have lived an aquatic life. So what we mean here are dinosaurs who lived much of their lives near lakes, rivers, and streams. These bodies of water may have been sources of the dinosaurs’ food and hydration.

The fearsome creatures you might be thinking of now like ichthyosaurs, mosasaurs, or the megalodon are reptiles/fish. They aren’t dinosaurs.

Now that we’ve got that settled, let’s start exploring the dinosaur habitats.

#1 Rivers

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Water Dinosaurs’ Bones Just Around the River Bend

Is there such a thing as river monsters? The Cretaceous Period says “you bet!”. And the water dinosaurs are none other than the famous Spinosaurus. They’re the only known dinosaur species to have swimming abilities and an aquatic lifestyle.

Rivers were the perfect dinosaur habitats for predators like the Spinosaurus because it was an abundant source of food. Specimens have even been found where the fish scales’ fossilized remains were inside spinosaurids’ stomachs.

Good examples of this dinosaur habitat are the ones in prehistoric North Africa where Spinosaurus fossils were found. These countries used to be filled with wide-open bodies of water before they were the arid deserts and plains we know today.

Spinosaurus bones were found in the ancient river beds of Egypt back in 1915. But they were unfortunately destroyed by World War II bombings in 1944.

New hope was found for the Spinosaurus when fossils were discovered in 2014 in Morocco’s Kem Kem beds. Their remarkable find shows that rivers were truly a dinosaurs’ habitat too. Additionally, the researchers’ reconstruction of the fossils presents solid evidence that the Spinosaurus’ could swim using its strong long tail.

Here’s a lifelike animatronic Spinosaurus to help you imagine this river monster in real life.

a large brown animatronic dinosaur with a sail-like fin on its back with a fish at its feet

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#2 Floodplains

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A dinosaur habitat right next to rivers are floodplains. Literally. These areas of land are flat spaces that easily fill up with water when the rivers overflow and are dry when they don’t.  They’re made of rocks, soil, and sand deposited by the river’s flooding.

Water dinosaurs who loved these places were the Hadrosaurus. They’re herbivores known for having mouths that are “duck-billed” in shape. But Darren Naish in Scientific American begs to differ and says that a “downturned hook-billed” appearance was the more scientifically correct description.

a dinosaur skeleton with a billed mouth on display

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This is important because it tells us how hadrosaurs such as the famous Edmontosaurus lived in an environment like the floodplains. Scientists believe that it may have fed on horsetails, conifers, twigs, rotting wood, leaves, and soil present in that dinosaur habitat. A duck-billed mouth might not have made obtaining food like that possible in a floodplain.

#3 Lakes

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Next up are lakes. These are bodies of water surrounded by land which were favorable dinosaur habitats for species like the Baryonyx, Iguanodons, and little sauropods.

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The Baryonyx were semi-water dinosaurs who’re members of the Spinosauridae family and were crocodilian in appearance. They fed on the lakes’ fishes and possibly the juvenile Iguanodons that lived in the area.

#4 Lagoons

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Did you know the pretty lagoons we see today used to be dinosaur habitat of the bird-like Archaeopteryx? Lagoons are shallow quiet waters separated from a bigger one (ex. the ocean) by natural barriers like coral reefs or barrier islands.

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The lagoons at that time were surrounded by islands that had a mild-arid and tropical climate that was also favorable for small animals and insects to thrive. These formed parts of the food chain which fed the Archeopteryx.

#5 Fjords

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Europe’s beautiful fjords were dinosaur habitats long before they were travel destinations. Fjords came about after the Ice Age when glaciers moved and carved through the landscape. This movement (glaciation) created the steep cliffs and deep valleys that characterize fjords.

These were dinosaur habitats because fossils were found in Greenland’s Fleming Fjord Formation. Dinosaurs like the Plateosaurus used to live in the areas surrounding the narrow deep waters.

graphic art of a gray long-necked dinosaur

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The Plateosaurus probably fed on the plants it could easily find on the plants near the water and the vegetation on land. This “broad lizard” had leaf-shaped teeth and a jaw with a low-positioned joint that helped it crush the plants it ate. It lived in fjords that date back to the Late Triassic period.

Other dinosaurs that are thought to have also lived in this dinosaur habitat are the Eosauropus and Evazoum. They’re sauropodomorphs that are believed by paleontologists to have left the trackways that have been found in the Fleming Fjord Formation.

#6 Islands

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Have you ever wondered what island life was like in a dinosaur habitat? Lush tropical plants, the occasional monsoons, and balmy weather characterize the prehistoric Hateg Island climate.

But the catch was something about the island life may have dwarfed the large dinosaurs as is the case in Hateg Island. Another mind-boggling incident was the gigantism of normally small animals. Paleontologists call this the “island rule”.

Dwarfism was experienced by the otherwise towering Titanosaur and Magyarosaurus dacus. Gigantism, on the other hand, was experienced by pterosaurs called Hatzegopteryx. This led to the Hatzegopteryx to become one of the world’s largest pterosaurs.

a black-orange and yellow-billed reptile puppet with wings

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Research has yet to determine what caused the phenomenon. So for now, let’s enjoy them as they are. Who wouldn’t get cheered up by a big bright tropical pterosaur, right?

Habitats of Swamp Dinosaurs

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Did you know that wetlands used to be the dinosaur habitat of the Iguanodons and Hypsilophodons from the Isle of Wight? These low-lying water-filled areas created a unique environment for vegetation to grow and feed the dinosaurs as it had the right mix of land and water.

#7 Wetlands

illustration of small black dinosaurs beside a body of water and green large dinosaurs across the water

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What’s good to know is that wetlands aren’t totally dry nor are they completely submerged underwater contrary to popular notion. You’ll see that characteristic which is common among wetlands such as swamps, marshes, and bogs.

Additionally, wetlands are distinct from other dinosaur habitats because they’re characterized by both land and water. These unique traits enabled some to have more plants (hydrophytes) while others had more trees.

Moss and grass also grew in these areas too. We see here that an ecosystem like this is what helped the Hypsilophodons and Iguanodons thrive.

Habitats of Land Dinosaurs

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Now, we’re going to step out of the water and onto dry land to see where awesome land dinosaurs lived. Let’s visit the badlands and the thick forests where the predators of prehistoric times reigned

#8 Deserts

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There’s one place that’s famous among paleontologists as a dinosaur habitat — the Gobi Desert. This well-known dino home has yielded some of the world’s most recognized dinosaurs like the Velociraptor, Oviraptor, and Protoceratops.

Those land dinosaurs were able to survive in a hot and dry place because of the occasional shrubs, streams, and trees that dotted the ancient area. These provided hydration and food for them on top of the other animals they may have preyed on like the pterosaurs and young pachycephalosaurus.

green Velociraptor statues in arid land

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It’s not surprising if they preyed on each other too. In fact, a fossil of a velociraptor and a protoceratops was discovered together as if they were locked in a deadly battle. But no one knows for sure which dinosaur was winning or why they were fighting as the two died mid-fight when a sandstorm hit causing sand dunes to crash on both.

#9 Plains

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Sprawling flat spaces of land are what characterize the earth’s great plains. They come in various forms such as grasslands, savannas, and tundra. But if you’d go millions of years back in time, the great plains were subtropical dinosaur habitats where Tyrannosaurs, Triceratops, and Ankylosaurs roamed freely.

Yes, Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.

brown T. rex skeleton with a forest background

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These Cretaceous land dinosaurs grew in such an environment as Montana’s great plains because it provided enough plants for the herbivores. Enough animal population for the predatory carnivores may have played a factor too.

Another good example of a plain is the Late Jurassic-aged Morrison Formation. It’s a wide stretch of land where dinosaurs like the Apatosaurus and Stegosaurus used to live back when the place was forested.

#10 Badlands

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Badlands weren’t at all bad when they started. They were only called such because they were discovered at a time when the terrain was already dry, rocky, and eroded. It didn’t help that they also lacked vegetation and water under the sweltering heat.

Badlands like the ones in Canada were verdant tropical forests during the Cretaceous period. They used to be dinosaur habitats that were enough to support land dinosaurs like the Borealopelta and Albertosaurus.

sculptures of running brown dinosaurs on display

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In contrast, the Albertosaurus was a carnivorous tyrannosaurid that may have preyed on herbivorous dinosaurs. This bad boy was fierce, not as ferocious as the Tyrannosaurus because it was smaller and lighter in built.

The dinosaurs were sustained by moderate temperatures, the sea’s moisture, and rich plant life. The forests sheltered them from the elements, helped population growth, and provided food for the carnivores.

#11 Scrublands

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Did you know the habitat of one of the world’s largest dinosaurs used to be a forest? The dinosaur habitat the Patagotitan used to call home is a scrubland at present.

Scrublands are plant communities commonly dominated by – you guessed it – shrubs. These are woody plants that grow up to 16 feet tall. The climate is warm and dry.

illustration of two long-necked dinosaurs walking in a dark green field with trees on the side

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It’s a stark contrast to the dense forests the Patagotitans thrived in. These 70-ton 122 feet-tall land dinosaurs fed on the abundant trees that used to exist in the area.

Another dinosaur whose home used to be a forest but is now a scrubland is the Dreadnaughts. It’s a long-necked herbivorous dinosaur just like the Patagotitan and is one of the world’s largest animals too.

A possible reason how these dinosaur habitats became scrublands is the big change in the earth’s climate that came in the Cenozoic Era. The changes that happened were dramatic cooling temperatures and the drying up of a region. These factors may have led to the scrublands we see today.

#12 Riparian Forests

erial view of a forested area near a body of water

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Have you ever heard of a dinosaur habitat that’s not only beneficial for the dinosaurs but for other animals too? Riparian forests are one such kind.

Here are the ways these forested areas near rivers or streams may have helped the prehistoric ecosystem:

  • cleared up flowing water
  • decreased soil erosion
  • provided a way for ancient fish to move around and kept them from isolation
  • provided a place for vegetation to grow
illustration of a forest with a long-necked dinosaur in the middle of two small brown dinosaurs

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Now what land dinosaurs thrived in these habitats? Species whose fossils were discovered in riparian forests and are believed to have thrived there are:

  • Allosaurus
  • Barosaurus
  • Camptosaurus
  • Diplodocus
  • Saurophaganax

Flora that characterized this dinosaur habitat, like the Morrison Basin during the Late Jurassic period, were conifers, ginkgos, horsetail rushes, and cycads. The climate in riparian forests was dry.

#13 Dense Coniferous Forests

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The basic requirements needed for a place to become a habitat are food and shelter. The same thing may have gone for land dinosaurs like the Psittacosaurus. They not only fed on the forest vegetation in its dinosaur habitat but may have also used the forest’s density to camouflage from predators.

Paleontologist Jakob Vinther studied a Psittacosaurus fossil and made a 3D reconstruction of the dinosaur. His team studied its color patterns to understand its habitat.

Their results showed that the dinosaur had a light-colored belly and a dark-colored back. The importance of these results provide good evidence that it lived in a dense forest and how it made camouflage happen:

“the pigmentation counteracts the effect of light falling on the animal: The lighter belly is cast into shadow while the darker back is lightened, giving it a flat appearance that makes it much harder to see”.

graphic art of a brown dinosaur in four different poses

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Who knew a forest’s simple cones and needles could be used by a colorful Psittacosaurus as an important means of protection? This just shows how amazingly everything works together in the circle of life in prehistoric times.

#14 Polar Areas

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Even the world’s polar regions didn’t escape becoming a dinosaur habitat. It’s possible as surprising as it sounds.

Arctic Region

graphic art of three brown dinosaurs in a forest under a starry night sky

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One of the land dinosaurs discovered from the Artic region was a young dromaeosaur. A fossil of its jawbone was found in Alaska, USA.

The discovery of a young dinosaur’s fossil was good evidence that dinosaurs nested in the area. This shows that the Arctic region may have been good enough to be a dinosaur habitat in those times.

Antarctic Region

graphic art of two small brown dinosaurs on a short piece of land

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On the other hand, land dinosaurs like the Leaellynsaura amicagraphica and the Timimus hermani lived in prehistoric wintry Australia. It was part of the Antarctic region back then because it used to be connected to Antarctica.

The Leaellynsaura survived using its big eyes specially adapted to night vision and may have dug burrows to protect itself. Either that or it was endothermic, paleontologists believe.

The odds were tough because the sun didn’t shine for at least a month to four and a half months in this dinosaur habitat. But the mid-Cretaceous period temperature when it lived was warmer than it is today which may have helped increase its chances of survival.

Habitats of Mountain Dinosaurs

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What typically comes to mind when it comes to dinosaur habitats are tropical forests and islands. But surprisingly, the mountains are alive with the sound of dinosaurs roaming around Appalachia. Let’s get to know more about this habitat below.

#15 Mountains

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Appalachia was a huge island mass that came about when North America was split by the Western Interior Seaway about 100 million years ago. During this time the Sevier Mountains and Rocky Mountains gradually rose. These helped create a dinosaur habitat that enabled many kinds of dinosaurs to thrive.

The dinosaur species already alive at that time experienced isolation as the mountain ridges separated them from each other. Paleontologists hypothesize that the isolation is what drove their rapid growth.

The mountain dinosaurs who thrived there were horned and duck-billed dinosaurs. Tyrannosaurs, hadrosaurs, and nodosaurs also flourished in this dinosaur habitat

The Dinosaur Ecosystem

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There are so many dinosaur habitats, if you think about it. We’ve just covered forests, deserts, rivers, and islands among many others.

What’s even more amazing is how those individual places form a part of something bigger. And that’s the ecosystem.

An ecosystem is the whole geographic space where animals, organisms, and plants coexist. Add the weather and terrain to the mix and you’ve got an ecosystem all joining hands to make life happen.

The dinosaur ecosystem, in particular, is the physical environment where they’re at the top of the food chain. They’re the kings of the rocks, plants, other animals, and organisms. They thrived in their times with the temperate climate that was common throughout their times with exceptions to the arid places.

In the next section, we’ll get to know how dinosaurs influenced life on earth in the past and today. Additionally, you’ll also get to know what paleontologists are doing to understand how dinosaurs coexisted in the same places.

How Dinosaurs’ Habitats & Existence Changed the World

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The dinosaurs’ very existence and their habitats helped shape their world and ours. Being the dominant species gave them enough liberty to do what they needed to thrive.

A good example of a dinosaur habitat influencing the ecosystem is through their nesting as shared by Riley Black in the Smithsonian Magazine. He shares that the Maiasaura’s eggs created deep pockets in the floodplains where they laid their eggs. And you see those pockets in Montana’s badlands today.

Black shares another example of how dinosaurs literally shaped the earth by pointing out Australia’s Broome Sandstone. These used to be filled with streams and lagoons whose shorelines dinosaurs walked on. The sauropod dinosaurs were so heavy that their footprints left permanent impressions on the grounds.

dinosaur footprint on a stone in Broome, Australia

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When it comes to their existence, Black cites paleontologist Anthony Martin for a good example. Dr. Martin relayed to him that dinosaurs simply climbing up a dune and slipping caused sand avalanches.

Plants’ and other animals’ lifestyles were affected as changes were brought to their habitat by the avalanches. Occurrences like this influenced the greater ecosystem in turn.

How Coexistence Was Possible in the Same Dinosaur Ecosystem

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Imagine the bulky bodies of dinosaurs like the ceratopsians and the hadrosaurs living together. Now imagine them vying for the same food options because they’re both herbivores. How could both survive with great competition for limited resources?

Researchers used to think that dinosaurs split up the viable dinosaur habitats and edible sources of food among themselves. This idea helped answer how dinosaurs diversity was sustained.

But a guess will only remain a guess unless you do something to prove its possibility. And so they did.

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The researchers, led by paleontologist Thomas Cullen, made a study that compared certain elements from dinosaur teeth. Elements like carbon and oxygen were studied from those specimens because these remained the same despite the lapsed time.

The scientists were able to gauge the dinosaurs’ habitat and diet from measuring the elements’ stable isotopes. The technique they used in their analysis was laser gas chromatography isotope ratio mass spectrometry.

brown open-mouthed dinosaur surrounded by green plants

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The carbon and oxygen isotopes from both dinosaurs overlapped instead of showing big differences. These results proved the idea about the dinosaurs dividing the resources otherwise.

So the research moved on to study other possibilities like “feeding height segregation” or moving to a different part of the land that they occasionally go to. How similar dinosaurs coexisted with each other remains a mystery until research brings more definite answers.

The Importance of Dinosaur Habitats Today

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What a huge picture the puzzle pieces of dinosaur habitats and ecosystems create, right? It’s so huge that one can’t help but be awe-struck at the possibilities of what life looked like in the prehistoric past.

At the same time, one can’t also help but wonder at the possibilities of this huge picture’s meaning for life today.

Studying dinosaurs and the places where they lived may be boring for many. But scientists believe that these are important.

Why? Because these puzzle pieces show us what life could be like for us in the future.

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Scientists believe we can prepare better for environmental changes because of predictability if the physical elements today had similar responses to ancient fauna’s and flora’s, Amazing, isn’t it?

So don’t give up digging deeper into dinosaurs and their habitats. What you know may just help make the world a better place and help preserve it as you combine it with others.

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