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Troodon Dinosaur Facts

The Troodon is a small Cretaceous theropod dinosaur that looks like a bird and was first discovered in 1854 by a tooth found in the Judith River formation of Alberta, Canada. The Troodon is often considered to be the smartest of all the dinosaurs, which is true, but this animal also had other characteristics that made it unique. Standing 11 feet tall and weighing 110 pounds, Troodon was frail and modest in size for a carnivorous theropod. It had a lot in common with crocodiles and birds, and scientists still wonder if it was an ancestor of them or not.

Small theropod close to birds

Based on the tooth originally found in Alberta, the famous naturalist Joseph Leidy, who believed he was dealing with a small lizard rather than a dinosaur, named this animal Troodon (which means "wounding tooth") in 1856. Other Cretaceous teeth found in Montana confirmed that it was a dinosaur. The first studies of these teeth had suggested that it was a carnivorous ornithopod, as they resembled those of this species, but we now know that the Troodon was a small theropod close to birds. In the early 1930s, nearly 80 years after the discovery of the first tooth, scattered fragments of Troodon foot, hand and tail began to resurface from different locations in North America.

Originally known as Stenonychosaurus

For decades, the bones of this dinosaur had been known as Stenonychosaurus and classified as belonging to a Coelurus-related theropod by American paleontologist Charles H. Sternberg. It was only after the discovery of more complete fossils in 1969 that paleontologists made the connection between Stenonychosaurus and Troodon and recognized the resemblance to the contemporary Asian theropod Saurornithoides.

Troodon had a superior intelligence

Troodon skull
Troodon skull

The most interesting feature of this carnivorous theropod is that it had great intelligence compared to other dinosaurs of the time. What made the Troodon so smart was that the size of its brain was much larger in proportion to the rest of his body than most other theropods of similar stature. Such a belief, however, rests on observation and comparison with other living animals, where there is a strong correlation between the size of the brain and the degree of intelligence; but as intelligence is not fossilized, one can only wonder about the speculative side of this statement.

Like an Albert Einstein from prehistoric times, Troodon boasted an IQ several orders of magnitudes greater than his contemporaries. But brilliant as it was for the Mesozoic era, its intelligence did not exceed that of a chicken. The dinosaurs were really stupid beasts that had only a few basic reflexes to ensure their survival.

Fictitious scenario of Dale Russell

In 1982, Canadian paleontologist Dale Russell speculated on what would have happened to the Troodon if it had survived the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction 65 million years ago. In its fictitious story to take with a large grain of Cretaceous salt, the Troodon would have evolved into a highly intelligent bipedal reptile whose appearance and ways would have been comparable to those of modern human beings. It also would have had big eyes, partially opposable thumbs and three fingers on each hand. Without wanting to ridicule Dale Russell's wacky ideas, some people just have more fertile imagination than others!

Troodon had a binocular vision

Not only were Troodon's eyes wider than normal, but they were placed forward on its face indicating that this dinosaur had an advanced binocular vision that allowed it to target small prey that were trying to escape. Strangely, the image of Gargamel chasing a Smurf comes to mind. In comparison, the eyes of most herbivorous animals were placed on the side of their heads, an adaptation that allowed them to quickly detect an imminent carnivore attack. This particular anatomy reminiscent of humans partly explains the increased intelligence of Troodon.

Troodon lived as much in cold as in hot regions

The fact that Troodon had larger eyes than the vast majority of other theropods suggests that he had to either hunt at night or needed to collect all the available light from its cold, dark North American environment. This evolutionary strategy was also adopted by the dinosaur Leaellynasaura, an Australian ornithopod who also had large eyes. Having to process more visual information automatically implies the need to have a larger brain which can partially explain Troodon's relatively high IQ.

Troodon fossils have been found in Late Cretaceous sediments in remote areas of Alaska all the way down to New Mexico. Such a large territorial distribution has led palaeontologists to believe that some Troodon species will eventually be promoted to their own genus.

Eggs and parenting habits

Skeleton fossil of Troodon
Skeleton fossil of Troodon

The Troodon is famous for being one of those rare carnivorous dinosaurs whose parental habits are known in detail. Based on the preserved nesting areas discovered by Jack Horner in Montana, the females of this dinosaur laid on average two eggs per day for about a week and a total of 16 to 24 eggs per spawning (only a few lucky ones arrived to hatch before falling prey to scavengers). Like modern birds, it is possible that it was the males of this species that hatched the eggs.

Possibly omnivorous

With its binocular vision, its huge brain and its gripping hands, one would be led to believe that the Troodon adopted an exclusively predatory lifestyle. However, it is possible that this dinosaur was an opportunistic omnivore that fed on seeds, nuts, fruits, small mammals, birds and even other dinosaurs. Some studies claim that Troodon's teeth were better suited to chewing soft meat than fibrous plant material; the debate about the real diet of this dinosaur is still relevant.

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