Texas has had a really amazing ancient past. From ancient underwater volcanoes to astounding rock formations to shallow seas and more, the landscape here saw millions of years’ worth of activity and change long before humans ever even existed.
Including, of course, a long history of dinosaur life right here!
In fact, 21 of the 300 known dinosaur species have been found here in Texas all over the state.
They’ve left behind a lot of fossils here in Texas, and they’ve all helped scientists and paleontologists understand what life was like here almost 200 million years ago.
Here are the dinosaurs that used to live here in Texas! They may have even lived close to where you live today!
Dinosaurs that lived in Texas
Upper Triassic dinosaurs in Texas
225-200 million years ago
Most of these were found in the Texas Panhandle region which, during the Upper Triassic Age around 225-220 million years ago, looked very different to what it looks like today. Rather than the hot, dusty land that makes up much of the area now, the region used to be a tropical basin surrounded by mountains and filled with tall evergreen trees and palm trees. Swamps and streams crisscrossed the land, and ferns covered the well-drained soils.
This well-known dinosaur has been found all over New Mexico, Arizona and Texas, often buried in large packs. These social carnivores hunted small herbivorous dinosaurs, smaller reptiles and other small critters that roamed the ancient landscape.
Super fun fact: this dinosaur was named the Latin name for “Techno Lizard” because, get this, it was found near Texas Tech University in Lubbock!
In reality, this dinosaur was not much bigger than a large dog, measuring just four feet long and weighing not much more than 25 pounds. We also know by its ridged teeth that it was a herbivore, rather than a sharp-toothed carnivore. Basically, this little guy would probably be a pretty good pet.
If you were to imagine an ostrich, but with no feathers, leathery skin and a couple of arms sticking out the front, then you’d get a fairly accurate idea of what this early omnivore looked like!
Early Cretaceous dinosaurs in Texas
119-95 million years ago
Most of these dinosaurs have been found in central and north-central Texas, where brackish waters and estuaries covered the land. Back then, a shallow sea moved back and forth across much of eastern Texas over the course of millions of years, creating extremely biodiverse ecology that was home to a wide range of flora and fauna. Just like Texas’s wetlands and bayous today!
There are footprints at the Dinosaur Valley State Park in Glen Rose that show the footprints of this 30-foot long carnivorous creature chasing a Pleurocoelus! In fact, there are hundreds of these fossilized footprints all over Central Texas — talk about leaving a mark on the world!
This large, towering dinosaur left behind excellently preserved sets of footprints that have helped paleontologists identify similar remains in Texas, Maryland and even in England!
These gentle giants — they were herbivores — could grow up to a whopping 45-feet long and weighed over 10 tons!
Think of a crocodile that could walk on both its hind legs and on all-fours — that’s a pretty close idea of what this Tenontosauraus looked like!
These “iguana tooth” dinosaurs were named for their teeth’s resemblance to modern-day iguana teeth — though the ones on this dinosaur were much, much bigger.
This powerful dinosaur had razor-sharp, saw-edged teeth and a set of terrifying sickle claws — perfect for hunting prey both smaller and larger than its already-impressive 10-foot length!
Basically, don’t pet the animal.
Proctor Lake hypsilophodont
These little dinosaurs were found in large numbers near Proctor Lake in Comanche County, hence the name. They most likely traveled in large packs like many gazelles do today.
Fun fact about this dinosaur: it was the first to be scientifically described in England back in 1825 — meaning it was technically the first dinosaur to ever be discovered by modern-day scientists!
A 10-year old boy in Fort Worth discovered a small, armadillo-sized hatchling of this dinosaur in 1989, leading to the discovery of this new species and additional fossils of larger adults!
Protohadros was found near Grapevine Lake and the Dallas-Fort Worth airport in 1995 by a part-time paleontologist. It’s thought to be one of the earliest duckbill dinosaurs in North America — as of right now, at least!
Upper Cretaceous dinosaurs in Texas
75-65 million years ago
These more recent dinosaurs were the last to occupy Texas before the mass extinction event 65 million years ago, the one that wiped out around 75% of all plant and animal life on the planet.
Before that, though, there was a massive variety of life in North America. Most of the dinosaur remains dating back to this time were found in the Big Bend region, which used to be a river mouth emptying out into an inland sea that covered much of eastern and southern Texas.
Though the dinosaurs may not have necessarily lived in the exact areas where their remains were found, they were still pretty darn close. The landscape where they lived had flowering bushes, evergreen trees, oaks, magnolias and figs — an environment that fostered all kinds of life.
Before, of course, most of them were wiped out.
This long-necked dinosaur was first found near a cottonwood tree in New Mexico and given the name “Ojo Alamo Lizard,” after the Spanish word for that tree. The creature itself was around 70 feet long and weighed over 30 tons!
This dinosaur needs no introduction, as it's one of the more popular dinosaurs in pop culture today!
Though Tyrannosaurus rex (meaning “tyrant lizard king” in Latin) is the best-represented species in this genus, there are two other possible species that are still being investigated: the Tyrannosaurus imperator (“tyrant lizard emperor”) and Tyrannosaurus regina (“tyrant lizard queen”). All of which have insanely cool names, so we’re on board with it!
This tri-horned dinosaur had a large neck frill that was lined with smaller horns — perfect for fighting other males and for protecting the vulnerable neck area from predators attacking these peaceful herbivores.
With three large spikes extruding from its head and a massive neck frill that extended over its back, this dinosaur is thought to have had the largest head of any land animal — a whopping nine feet long!
From fossils and studies, scientists believe this dinosaur had a collection of loose skin around its nose that could be inflated like a balloon! The noise would make a loud bellowing sound that might have been used to scare off predators, though these peaceful vegetarians were already an impressive 43-feet long!
This herbivore’s name means “noble lizard” in reference to the raised bridge over its long snout, giving it a likeness to a “Roman nose” that was thought to represent nobility in ancient times.
With long legs, a lithe body and a light build, this little ostrich-looking creature could travel up to 30 miles an hour!
Not to be confused with the stegosaurus, the stegoceras had a thick, dome-shaped head that was good for headbutting — similar to how bighorn sheep butt heads today!
This bulky dinosaur rose not too high off the ground where it collected its vegetarian diet, though it carried an impressive spiked armor on its back that extended down to its tail, protecting it from larger predators.
This dinosaur is the only known dinosaur in Texas to have a club at the end of its tail, as well as a thick armor on its back.
Next time you’re driving through Texas or heading back to your luxury Houston apartments, think about how different the landscape may have looked 200 million years ago, 100 million years ago or 65 million years ago during the golden age of the dinosaurs. And we get to walk on the same soil as these ancient creatures!
Featured photo courtesy Pixabay/nnguyen21