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The Science of Jurassic Park 3



Spinosaurus vs. Tyrannosaurus

The thrilling battle from Jurassic Park 3 could never have actually happened, as millions of years and geography separated the two carnivores. Discussion over which animal would win a fight is merely speculation because no one can accurately gauge the extent of an animal's behavior from fossils. Spinosaurus is now accepted as the largest theropod dinosaur and may have been even larger than the one portrayed in the film. Tyrannosaurus, long hailed the ultimate predatory dinosaur was indeed a very impressive animal. Tyrannosaurs had a tremendous bite force designed to crush bones. Spinosaurus is believed to have fed primarily on fish, so its jaws are long and narrow. It is important to note that Spinosaurus did share its habitat with another large predator, Carcharodontosaurs, which was also larger than Tyrannosaurus. The two likely specialized in different food sources and rarely fought over meals. Most modern predators tend to avoid territorial confrontations resulting in death, so a real battle between the two carnivores would have most likely been less violent. Spinosaurus might have used its sail as a way to look bigger to other dinosaurs just as modern animals do.



Were Velociraptors really that intelligent?

In Jurassic Park 3, Dr. Grant proposes that Velociraptors were capable of advanced communication and were smarter than modern primates and dolphins. No research suggests that Velociraptor was even close to the intelligent, problem solving creature in the Jurassic Park franchise. Studies have shown that dromeosaurs were among the smartest dinosaurs, but there is little evidence to suggest they were any smarter than modern chickens. Fossils of multiple Deinonychus together seem to indicate pack hunting, but no one is certain if this was random cooperation or an organized social structure.



Were Pteranodon really that terrifying?

The Pteranodon portrayed in Jurassic Park 3 was inaccurate in a number of ways. Firstly, the name Pteranodon is Greek and translates to "winged and toothless," whereas the animals in the film have numerous teeth. Pteranodon like other pterosaurs would have been covered in pycnofiber (pterosaur fur). Inconsistencies may stem from the fact that all these animals are hybrids, not true to their prehistoric counterparts. Pteranodon had wings designed for gliding, and the movie takes some liberties with its patterns of flight. It is likely that Pteranodon would feed primarily on fish, meaning that it would ignore humans altogether. Further questions arise from how these animals could survive in an aviary without food. The aviary is located on the river, where carcasses of animals could float downstream and be scavenged by the Pteranodons. These animals are extremely lightweight for their size. While on the topic of size, it must be noted that the Pteranodon in the films were greatly oversized and could not have lifted a human. Even the largest pterosaurs lacked clasping feet, making this feat (pun intended) impossible.



How accurate was Spinosaurus?

The Spinosaurus in Jurassic Park 3 has a bad reputation for being more movie monster than animal. While new reconstructions have changed the look of Spinosaurus, the depiction in the film is fairly accurate for 2001. Spinosaurus is now believed to be the largest theropod dinosaur. The prehistoric creature may have fed primarily on fish, but without the large fish species in its habitat, this Spinosaurus may have adapted to hunt more on land. It pursues the humans throughout the film, likely because it finds them easy prey items who venture through its territory. Many also question the addition of another large predator to an island full of predators, but it is likely that Spinosaurus ventured into the ocean for some of its meals, possibly feeding on sharks and dolphins in addition to the dinosaurs of Isla Sorna. The fight with the T. rex was an attempt to startle audiences and show the power of the animal, but this would also make sense as an attempt to reduce competition for food and defend territory.



Using dinosaur dung for a disguise?

In Jurassic Park 3, the group avoids an attack from a Ceratosaurus in what is normally perceived as a comical scene. The Spinosaurus was one of the top predators on Isla Sorna, thus its scent would certainly have intimidated a smaller predator. Eric Kirby says that he recovered T.rex urine that scared off smaller dinosaurs but attracted Spinosaurus. Scent plays a much stronger role to other members of the animal kingdom than it does to humans. Using dinosaur excrement might be a very useful tactic for survival. It remains unclear whether or not dinosaurs produced liquid urine or uric acid, as most modern birds do.



How fast were Raptors?

In Jurassic Park, Robert Muldoon says that Velociraptors could run in excess of 50 miles per hour if they were let loose. In Jurassic Park 3, we finally get to see these dinosaurs in pursuit of prey. Luckily, the humans have a substantial head start in order to escape death. Could the real animals run that fast? There have been numerous studies on the speed of Mesozoic animals. A 2007 paper by Sellers & Manning provides an experiment which created robotic models of animal limb bones and muscles to test in real time the top speed at which they could get them to run. Using this method, they tested the running speeds of 5 theropods. The results showed a top speed of 24 miles per hour for Velociraptor, 23 miles per hour for Dilophosaurus, 18 miles per hour for T. rex, and a speedy 40 miles per hour for Compsognathus. While nowhere near the 50-60 miles per hour boasted by Jurassic Park, even the relatively slow T. rex still just outpaces the average human.



Fact checking provided by Tom Parker