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Dinosaur Timeline - When did dinosaurs live?

Updated on August 01, 2013

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

dinosaur timeline
dinosaur timeline

Here's a visual representation. It's done in horizontal layers because the time periods correspond to geological layers.

Click to download a printable pdf version of this dinosaur timeline with names included

Buy at AllPosters.com (International)

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.

See results

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?

What Happened to the Dinosaurs? (Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science 2)
What Happened to the Dinosaurs? (Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science 2)

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:

The Magic School Bus:  Back in Time with the Dinosaurs
The Magic School Bus: Back in Time with the Dinosaurs

Lots of dinosaur activities including making a dinosaur timeline.

 

Giant Evolution Timeline: Poster

Giant Evolution Timeline: Poster
Giant Evolution Timeline: Poster

Brilliant. This is 12 feet long! Evolution timeline including dinosaurs and more.

 

Permian

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.

Triassic

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

@ Amazon

BUY NOW


Coelophysis appeared later in the Triassic period. Coelophysis was also a carnivore, but was bigger than Eoraptor at around 3m in length.

The first herbivores also appeared in the late Triassic. Plateosaurus was big, up to 10m long.


Coelophysis - Triassic

Coelophysis (Exploring Dinosaurs)
Coelophysis (Exploring Dinosaurs)

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

Walking with Dinosaurs
Walking with Dinosaurs

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

Jurassic

208 million years ago to 145 million years ago

Jurassic Dinosaurs

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 Adventure Pack (Jurassic Park / The Lost World: Jurassic Park / Jurassic Park III)
Jurassic Park Adventure Pack (Jurassic Park / The Lost World: Jurassic Park / Jurassic Park III)

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.

Jurassic Dinosaurs

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.

Safari Ltd  Wild Safari Dilophosaurus
Safari Ltd Wild Safari Dilophosaurus

A lovely colorful figure. Of course we don't know for certain what color they would have been.

 
Schleich Brachiosaurus
Schleich Brachiosaurus

My son has this Brachiosaurus, it's lovely quality. My favorite of all his figures.

 
Papo The Dinosaur Figure, Stegosaurus
Papo The Dinosaur Figure, Stegosaurus

Another instantly recognisable creature from the Jurassic.

 

Cretaceous

145 million years ago to 65 million years ago

Cretaceous Dinosaurs

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.

Cretaceous Dawn
Cretaceous Dawn

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.

(From Cretaceous.)

Tyrannosaurus Rex - T-Rex - Cretaceous Dinosaurs

Papo The Dinosaur Figure, Tyrannosaurus
Papo The Dinosaur Figure, Tyrannosaurus

The famous T-Rex of course! Every kids toy collection needs this big meat eater.

 

Parasaurolophus - Cretaceous Dinosaurs

Safari Ltd Carnegie Collection-  Parasaurolophus
Safari Ltd Carnegie Collection- Parasaurolophus

My younger son's favourite across all the time periods.

 

Poll: Favorite Dinosaur Time Period

Which dinosaur era do you like best?

See results
Dinosaur Days
Dinosaur Days

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!

Evolution of Dinosaurs Timeline
Evolution of Dinosaurs Timeline

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

We took this photo of a brilliant Timeline at Torquay's Dinosaur World Museum
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.

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.

Discovery Timeline

History

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

@ Amazon

BUY NOW

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

@ Amazon

BUY NOW

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

Dinosaur Timeline

Did you learn something? Anything you'd like to see added? Anything we got wrong? Let us know!

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    • annrhi profile image

      annrhi 6 years ago

      Fascinating, an educational and entetaining lens, we learnt a great deal from it.

    • MagpieNest profile image
      Author

      MagpieNest 6 years ago

      @annrhi: Thanks ladies. Nice to see you over here.

    • myraggededge profile image

      myraggededge 6 years ago

      Good. I always get confused over this kind of question. Thanks for making it clear. :-)

    • MagpieNest profile image
      Author

      MagpieNest 6 years ago

      @myraggededge: My pleasure. I'm sure I'd learned about this before, but couldn't remember much when my son started asking questions. Hopefully it will stick this time.

    • thesuccess2 profile image

      thesuccess2 6 years ago

      I think that's my first ever 100% success quiz

    • MagpieNest profile image
      Author

      MagpieNest 6 years ago

      @thesuccess2: You were paying attention :-)

    • antoivo lm profile image

      antoivo lm 6 years ago

      This is a cool lens i love it. The time you must have spent researching this its very precise all the young lads seem to love Dinosaurs so this is a great way for them to interact and learn well done thumbs up. I used to collect Dinosaurs as a young kid so i have enjoyed this very much its brought the memories back :)

    • verymary profile image

      Mary 6 years ago from Chicago area

      my younger bros. were obsessed w/dinosaurs as kids; would have loved your lenses!! nice work.

    • profile image

      Chesapeake211 6 years ago

      Very interesting lens!!

    • profile image

      Geeve 6 years ago

      Great lens. Thanks for visiting my Jurassic Coast, have lensrolled your timeline.

    • deyanis profile image

      deyanis 6 years ago from Oz

      Well-researched and well-informative lens about Dinosaur. --- Blessed ---

    • MamaBelle profile image

      Francis Luxford 6 years ago from United Kingdom

      Wow nice lens! Great info.

    • Charmcrazey profile image

      Wanda Fitzgerald 6 years ago from Central Florida

      I love your lens. it's great fun and educational at the same time. Happy Valentine's Day!

    • MagpieNest profile image
      Author

      MagpieNest 6 years ago

      @Charmcrazey: Aww thanks Fitzcharming.

    • profile image

      Vacation-In-My-Head 5 years ago

      This is great! My daughter also loves learning all she can about dinosaurs. Thank you for sharing these resources.

    • pheonix76 profile image

      pheonix76 5 years ago from WNY

      This is such an excellent lens, I always love learning about prehistoric creatures, especially dinosaurs!!! :D

    • profile image

      brandonwithglasses 5 years ago

      Amazing! This is one of the best!

    • mattseefood lm profile image

      mattseefood lm 5 years ago

      Good information :) Thanks for sharing this with us!

    • profile image

      brandonwithglasses 5 years ago

      Yay Purple Star! You earned it!

    • thesuccess2 profile image

      thesuccess2 5 years ago

      I used to obsess about Dinosaurs but sadly Squidoo had not at that time yet evolved!

    • efriedman profile image

      efriedman 5 years ago

      Great to put the time perspective to dinosaurs. Thanks.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Absolutely wonderfully done!

    • LisaMarieGabriel profile image

      Lisa Marie Gabriel 5 years ago from United Kingdom

      Blessed on this Memorial Day bus trip! :)

    • profile image

      inkserotica 5 years ago

      A fluttering of ghostly angel wings have passed on by and sent blessings your way :)

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image

      Tolovaj Publishing House 5 years ago from Ljubljana

      Nice quiz, well presented info. Thumbs up!

    • naturegirl7s profile image

      Yvonne L. B. 5 years ago from Covington, LA

      Great dinosaur lens. Sprinkled with dust from the Angel of the farmyard on a Back to school field trip.

    • ColorPetGifts profile image

      ColorPetGifts 5 years ago

      There is this large bird down the street, a macaw I think, and when it's owner has it outside we can hear it all the way in our apartment suite - it sounds like a prehistoric dinosaur bird sometimes :)

    • profile image

      i_sew_vinyl 5 years ago

      Great dinosaur lens! Would love to see a printable poster with Dino images and labels!

    • profile image

      ThomasJ4 LM 5 years ago

      You have compiled a great dinosaur timeline, good work. Its crazy how tiny of a fraction of the timeline humans have existed within. We are just a tiny sliver.

    • Ben Reed profile image

      Ben Reed 5 years ago

      A great dinosaur lense - something to aspire to. Wonderful images and information.

    • gottaloveit2 profile image

      gottaloveit2 5 years ago

      Fascinating lens. You've got quite the dinosaur niche going there.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Great lens! Thanks for sharing it with all us fellow Squids! One big thumbs up vote left!

    • jadehorseshoe profile image

      jadehorseshoe 5 years ago

      SUPER Educational Lens!

    • profile image

      Edutopia 5 years ago

      Great lens! Never any problem with adding a little education into people's lives.

    • Vallygems1 profile image

      Vallygems1 5 years ago

      Great Fun lens

    • agoofyidea profile image

      agoofyidea 5 years ago

      Excellent lens. I knew a lot and still learned a lot.

    • choosehappy profile image

      Vikki 4 years ago from US

      You know your dinosaurs! Awesome ;)

    • profile image

      TanoCalvenoa 4 years ago

      Walking with Dinosaurs was a great show, although hopefully even better more realistic ones will eventually be made, with updated information reflected (like showing velociraptors with feathers).

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