Dinosaur Timeline - When did dinosaurs live?
When did T-Rex, Stegosaurus and all the others live?
What is the dinosaur timeline? When exactly did they live? When was the age of the dinosaurs? When did dinosaurs become extinct? What are the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous time periods? Read on to find out all this and more.
When trying to answer my son's questions I realized I was rather lacking in my knowledge of prehistory. So I decided to put that right. I've put together a page that aims to teach the basics of dinosaur history in a way that you'll remember. This could be the basis of a lesson plan or just for fun.
There's a Quiz at the end, so pay attention!
Dinosaur Timeline - Triassic, Jurassic, Creataceous
Here's a visual representation. It's done in horizontal layers because the time periods correspond to geological layers.
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Dinosaurs didn't just appear, they evolved from reptiles. Therefore before we look at the timeline we need to understand the define what we mean.
We all recognize a dino when we see one. Or do we? What is it that makes it so?
They are reptiles with a set of features that distinguish them from other reptiles. The most commonly cited distinguishing feature is that their legs go straight down underneath them, like the legs of mammals and unlike the legs of other reptiles which splay out to the side.
As we will see, there are lots of animals that are generally referred to as dinosaurs which technically weren't.
Poll: Dinosaurs and Flowering Plants - Did you know?
Did you know that flowering plants only appeared during the Cretaceous - the final dinosaur time period.
When did dinosaurs first appear?
They first appeared around 230 million years ago during the Triassic period.
To put this in context, the earth is calculated to be around 4.5 billion years old (that's American billions, i.e. 4.5 thousand million years old).
The first simple cells appeared 3.8 billion years ago and life gradually evolved from that point.
Fish appeared around 500 million years ago.
Reptiles appeared around 300 million years ago.
Dinosaurs appeared around 230 million years ago.
Mammals appeared around 200 million years ago.
Birds appeared around 150 million years ago.
(See a full timeline of evolution at Wikipedia.)
When did dinosaurs go extinct?
Dinosaurs died out around 65 million years ago at the end of the Cretaceous period. They had roamed the earth for over 160 million years.
Humans have only looked like they do today for 200,000 years. We have a way to go to catch these amazing creatures.
But it wasn't the same species throughout their 160 million year reign. Various species evolved at different times and not all species existed at the same time.
What Happened to the Dinosaurs?
The books in the Read-and-Find-Out Science series are really well put together for kids interested in science. We love them and we're building up a collection!
Mesozoic Era: Triassic, Jurassic, Cretaceous
Three ages of dinosaurs
The Mesozoic Era is know as the age of the dinosaurs as it includes the three time periods in which they lived. The three ages were Triassic (when they first appeared), Jurassic (as in Jurassic Park), and Cretaceous (at the end of which they were made extinct).
To remember of the order of the the time periods of the Mesozoic era I've come up with this mnemonic:
Terrible Jurassic Creatures.
Resources for Kids
This resource for kids is worth a look. It uses neat animation and shows the time range when each species lived. Lots of facts too.
And we also like this:
Lots of dinosaur activities including making a dinosaur timeline.
Giant Evolution Timeline: Poster
Brilliant. This is 12 feet long! Evolution timeline including dinosaurs and more.
Dimetrodon - Permian Pre-Dinosaurs
What are we doing in the Permian era? I thought you said dinosaurs appeared in the Triassic.
Yes, they appeared in the Triassic. Permian is the era before Triassic and Dimetrodon lived in Permian period.
Dimetrodon is NOT a dinosaur. Dimetrodon lived in the Permian era before the first dinos. Interestingly, Dimetrodon was more closely related to mammals than to lizards. We have a couple of Dimetrodons in our prehistoric creatures box. Now we know.
Games - Online Activities for Kids
Games that help kids learn the Mesozoic time periods.
245 million years ago to 208 million years ago
Triassic Dinosaurs - 245-208 million years ago
The first dinosaurs appeared around 230 million years ago. The climate was hot and dry. It was even warm at the north and south poles.
Eoraptor was one of the very first dinosaurs. No, I hadn't heard of him either. Eoraptor was a carnivore of about 1m in length. Eoraptor was discovered in 1991.
Professor Barrister's Dinosaur Mysteries #3: The Case of the Enormous Eoraptor
Coelophysis - Triassic
This book looks at the mystery of hundreds of Coelophysis fossils being found at a New Mexican sight.
Suitable for kids aged 8+, this is an interesting investigation into this prehistoric creature.
In The Beginning - Triassic
Triassic creatures are not well-known in popular culture. But they do feature in some recent documentaries including the BBC's acclaimed Walking with ...
In The Age of the Dinosaur Dawns we meet Coelophysis and Plateosaurus. Well worth watching.
Walking with Dinosaurs DVD - BBC
We have watched the Walking with Dinosaurs DVD many times in our house. Fabulous stuff. Packed full on dinosaur facts and beautiful scenery. Highly recommended.
Late Triassic: Riojasaurus
Let's take a look at one of the dinos from the Triassic period: Riojasaurus. Riojasaurus was a herbivore and it's remains were found in Argentina.
The video below is from the Dinosaur Safari game. A PC game from a few years ago where you can travel back in time and take pictures of animals from all the mesozoic time periods. It's a little dated, but you can often pick up a used copy very cheaply.
Dinosaur Safari@ Amazon BUY NOW
208 million years ago to 145 million years ago
During the Jurassic time period some well-known dinosaurs start to appear. The climate was still warm and it was humid enabling jungles to expand. The herbivores has plenty of vegetation to eat and got bigger. The carnivores also had plenty to eat (the bigger herbivores!) and grew. Throughout the Jurassic era the creatures got bigger and new species evolved.
Large herbivores like Brachiosaurus roamed the land and pterosaurs soared above.
Jurassic Park may not have been 100% scientifically accurate, but it certainly increased interest in dinosaurs.
SUPERSAURUS - the jurassic period
Let's meet a creature from the Jurassic Period: Supersaurus.
This video is from the dinosaur timeline teaching resource Dinosaur Days (See: Jurassic) which was designed to appeal to girls as well as boys. Some material is available to preview free of charge and for a small fee you can get full access to the educational material.
The Jurassic time period is probably the one that most people have heard of thanks to Jurrassic Park the movie. But do you know who lived then? They're not as famous as the ones from the Creataceous (we'll meet them in a minute) but they are still fairly well known.
A lovely colorful figure. Of course we don't know for certain what color they would have been.
My son has this Brachiosaurus, it's lovely quality. My favorite of all his figures.
Another instantly recognisable creature from the Jurassic.
145 million years ago to 65 million years ago
During the Cretaceous time period, the famous Tyrannosaurus Rex appears. As do two other modern favorites: Triceratops and Parasaurolophus. Well Parasaurolophus is a big favorite in our house anyway.
The Creataceous era had lots of volcanic activity. Flowering plants appeared and spread. Hadrosaurs like Parasaurolophus fed on flowering plants. Plentiful food supplies and the temperate climate meant that dinosaurs kept getting bigger. There were some really big carnivores like T-Rex and Spinosaurus during the Cretaceous period. And even bigger herbivores like the long-necked Sauropod Argentinosaurus.
T-Rex and friends were doing very well at the end of the Cretaceous period, and then they became extinct. Most scientists think this was due to a massive meteorite hitting the earth and causing a devastating cloud of debris which stopped plants growing. The dinosaurs had a good run, but the Cretaceous was their final era.
A time-travel novel set in the Cretaceous time period and full of facts and adventure.
MAIASAUR - the cretaceous period
Let's meet one of the dinosaurs from the Creataceous period: Maisaura.
Tyrannosaurus Rex - T-Rex - Cretaceous Dinosaurs
The famous T-Rex of course! Every kids toy collection needs this big meat eater.
Parasaurolophus - Cretaceous Dinosaurs
My younger son's favourite across all the time periods.
Poll: Favorite Dinosaur Time Period
Which dinosaur era do you like best?
Dinosaur Days Resource
Online or CD-ROM
We recently bought this resource - it's available online and on CD-Rom. I got it for my nearly five year old son to use on his netbook. It has been a great success! He loves to watch the videos and listen to all the facts about dinosaurs.
It is organized into the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous time periods and features dinosaurs from each time period as well as general information videos. There are also games to play and worksheets to complete. Some of the more advanced activities require reading so I can see this will last my boys for a while.
Well worth the very low purchase price for the beta.
Summer Outdoor Activity
This is a fun activity to do outdoors in the summer. You'll need some chalk and a large stretch of driveway or sidewalk that you can draw on.
Mark out a timeline with thick vertical lines at the boundaries of the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous time periods at the ratios shown in the dinosaur timeline diagram. You can either do this roughly by eye or you can get a big measuring tape and mark it accurately.
Write the names of the time periods onto the timeline in one color. And write the names of dinos that lived in the time period in the correct place. Or if you're artistic you can draw pictures of them.
You can also add on when humans appeared and how long we have been around.
Working in physical space like this is a brilliant way to develop an understanding of the time periods involved. And it's lots of fun! Everyone in the neighborhood will wonder what you are up to!
Printables and Worksheets - Mesozoic Activities
- Mesozoic Timeline
A printable timeline showing the three dinosaur time periods with dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures to color in.
- Animal Time Line
A geological timeline, including the age of the dinosaurs, with activities and a quiz.
- Printable Mesozoic Era Wordsearch
From Fossil Facts and Finds.
- Printable Mesozoic Era Crossword
From Fossil Facts and Finds.
- Earth Science Lesson Plans
Includes activities for the Mesozoic (Triassic, Jurassic and Creataceous) time period including a geological clock.
Evolution of Dinosaurs Timeline
How did species evolve?
Dinosaurs didn't all live at the same time. Species evolved and died out over millions of years. Click to see a large version of this Evolution of Dinosaurs diagram.
This is a great resource for seeing when the different families evolved and how they are related.
Image Credit: Zureks Wikipedia CC
We took this photo of a brilliant Timeline at Torquay's Dinosaur World Museum
Dinosaur Timeline Video
This video explains the three time periods and covers the dinosaurs that lived in each era. Toys are used as props! Very quirky and highly informative.
National Geographic Kids Ultimate Dinopedia
Do you need to improve your knowledge. This great reference includes the most up to date facts. The Kids Ultimate Dinopedia is written by Don Lessem a former animal behaviorist who has authored lots of kids books.
Packed with dinosaur facts and up to date.
Dinosaur Timeline and Creationism
There seem to be some people who teach children that the earth is only a few thousand years old and that dinosaurs were killed in the flood. Pseudo-scientific reasoning is used to explain how the flood caused fossils.
This is simply not true. Christian pseudo-scientists decide on the outcome they want (dinosaurs and people and all other creatures lived at the same time just after a god created them) and then they reason backwards making up things that sound plausible if you're not a scientific thinker.
This article does a great job of debunking creationist myths about the dinosaur timeline: Christian Answers: Fossils and The Flood. (There is some strong language in the article. Understandably.)
A great activity for older kids is to present the pseudo-scientific explanation of the flood to them and see if they can find the problems with it.
So we've looked at the timeline of when dinosaurs lived. But what about when they were first discovered?
Bones had probably been discovered many times through prehistory and history, but it was the community of scientists and naturalists in 19th century (1800s) England who began the serious study and classification of dinosaurs.
Richard Owen was one of the leading experts and in 1842 he coined the term Dinosauria to name these creatures.
Stone Girl Bone Girl: The Story of Mary Anning
Mary Anning was a key figure in the collecting and cataloguing of dinosaur fossils and other prehistoric specimens. It was very usual for a female to be taken seriously, but Anning was so knowledgeable that she couldn't be ignored.
The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins: An Illuminating History of Mr. Waterhouse Hawkins, Artist and Lecturer
We have this book and it's absolutely gorgeous. It has illustrations by Brian Selznick and tells the story of the first dinosaur park. The Crystal Palace dinosaurs were put on display in London in 1854. This book explains how Mr Waterhouse Hawkins used his knowledge of the natural world and artistic skills to recreate dinosaurs for the first time. We're lucky enough to have visited the Crystal Palace dinosaurs. Yes, they're still there today.
Thanks for Visiting
Did you learn something? Anything you'd like to see added? Anything we got wrong? Let us know!