If you grew up watching The Land Before Time, as I did, you may also have wondered about the real identities of some of the dinosaurs and other animals shown in the series. When I was around nine or ten I started writing a list of the dinosaurs that appeared in each film and what I thought they were. This is an improvement on that original list.
I don't own any of the images used on this page, which are © Universal Studios unless otherwise noted. They are included here only for informational purposes.
|Chameleon, Lizard "B", Platypus
|Compsognathus, Ctenospondylus, Lizard "C", Lizard "D", Salamander "B", Sordes
|Lizard "F", Lizard "G"
|Caterpillar, Lacewing, Spider
A small cute reptile visible in The Land Before Time at 7:40. It could be one of the smaller predatory dinosaurs like Compsognathus or Coelophysis. When we see it in the next shot (if this is the same creature), its coloration looks green instead of reddish and it has a very pointed triangular snout with a bit of an underbite.
The big scary "Sharp Tooth" introduced in the first The Land Before Time film is, of course, Tyrannosaurus rex. The upright posture it takes in a lot of scenes seems to have been inspired by Charles R. Knight's famous paintings, at least indirectly.
First appears in The Land Before Time. The egg thief that tries to steal Littlefoot's egg at 6:10 is identified in the studio model sheets and the script as an Ornithomimus. It looks very similar to the Struthiomimus that appear in The Great Valley Adventure, but it has more stripes on its legs and a ridge on its back. Coloration varies quite a bit depending on the lighting, but once it emerges out of the shadows you can see that it isn't really as dark as it appears in the first screenshot.
Some kind of small dinosaur that appears in The Land Before Time. It is seen fleeing the earthquake at 18:17. It has an interesting beaky-looking head shape, possibly with teeth. It might be a Chirostenotes, since its appearance wasn't really well known in the 80s or 90s; it was only after the discovery of Anzu that people really understood what Chirostenotes looked like.
The studio model sheets for the first film identify the "Long Necks" as Apatosaurus. Elephant-like feet aside, they are a very good rendition of Apatosaurus, especially Littlefoot's mother. It's funny that Littlefoot's grandparents have shorter, camarasaur-like heads and are depicted in some scenes wading in a swamp, as though the "older generation" of Apatosauruses are actually based on outdated ideas of Brontosaurus, back when it was still reconstructed with the wrong head, and the "younger generation" of Apatosauruses have a more modern look with more accurate features and behavior.
The fact that Brontosaurus is a separate species no matter how you look at it (Brontosaurus or Apatosaurus excelsus, while the "true" Apatosaurus is Apatosaurus ajax) makes this a little odd from an in-universe perspective. I suppose you could theorize that she was adopted. And of course Grandpa and Grandma Long Neck are only wading in that swamp because they're old and have joint pain and the water plants are easier to chew, thank you very much.
A second kind of sauropod appears in The Land Before Time at 39:40. We only get to see them up close very briefly, but it's pretty obvious that they have a slimmer build, longer necks, and narrower, almost beaklike snouts compared to the Apatosauruses. A few of the sequels feature Diplodocus characters with similar features, so that is what I assume they are.
Pachycephalosaurus appears in The Land Before Time at 52:55. It is either predatory or just very aggressive, and for some reason it is depicted holding its inner toe off the ground as if it were a raptor. The nose horns look strange, but Pachycephalosaurus genuinely did have horns on its nose—they just weren't this big. Their arms are also long, with unfriendly-looking clawed hands, but maybe that was also inspired by raptors.
To be fair, the idea that Pachycephalosaurus was an omnivore still comes up from time to time, because of the distinctive serrated, blade-like shape of its front teeth. But I still don't know where the raptor-like traits came from.
Cera and her family are Triceratopses. The name has actually been worked into the names provided for Cera's family: her father is given the name "Daddy Topps" in the script and end credits, and when his new mate is introduced in one of the sequels, she is given the name Tria.
The somewhat alligator-like skin texture drawn on the adult Triceratopses was based on genuine Triceratops skin impressions, which preserved rows of pointy, almost segmented-looking wrinkled skin on some parts of its body. It It used to be fairly common to depict Triceratops with alligator-like rows of scales down its back, much like in The Land Before Time. Other examples include vintage plastic toys produced by Invicta, and even Kaiyodo gave its Styracosaurus model kit a similar plate-like texture in 1992. But this look seems to have fallen out of style around the time Jurassic Park came out a year later, and is never really seen anymore.
The placement of the horns on the adult Triceratopses is more accurate than a lot of reconstructions. Ceratopsians were not cattle, and their horns grew out of the upper surface of the bone ridge that formed the "eyebrow". The opening of the eye socket should overlap halfway with the position of the horn, so that the front half of the horn is above the eye socket and the back half isn't. If the eye opening is fully in front of the horn, then either it's too far forward or the horn is too far back. Sometimes the Three Horns look a little off, but I think that's just the result of trying to depict a three-dimensional Three Horn in cartoon format.
More recent discoveries show that real baby Triceratopses look very little like Cera, but considering they look much more creepy than cute, I'm okay with that.
An impression of Triceratops skin.
Image © Gavin Rymill.
Ducky and her family were referred to as "Duckbills" in an early version of the script, but in the film (and sequels) their kind are referred to as "Swimmers" instead. The idea that hadrosaurs like Anatosaurus were amphibious was first challenged by Ostrom in 1964 and then debunked more thoroughly by Bakker in The Dinosaur Heresies, published in October of 1986. This was just a little too late to make an impact on the film during its development; production on The Land Before Time began in the spring of 1987, but according to an article written by John Cawley, concept art and an early version of the script were already in the works in the summer of 1986. The Land Before Time was accurate according to what was known at the time that early development was taking place.
The studio model sheets for the first film identify Ducky and her family as Anatosaurus, but Anatosaurus did not have a bony head crest. Ducky and her parents were clearly based on Saurolophus, which was (at that time) the only duckbill known to have that kind of upturned head crest. Both Anatosaurus and Saurolophus had been known from whole skeletons and complete skulls for 70+ years, so I'm not sure how the mix-up came about.
However, as of 2013 we know that Edmontosaurus regalis had a kind of soft-tissue wattle on the back of its head. Edmontosaurus and Anatosaurus are closely related and so similar that many scientists today consider Anatosaurus to be a species of Edmontosaurus (Edmontosaurus annectens). So it's well within the realm of possibility that Anatosaurus had a head crest like this. In which case, you could say that The Land Before Time correctly predicted the existence of this crest 25 years before its discovery.
Edmontosaurus with the soft-tissue head crest. Original drawing © Scott Hartman
In The Land Before Time, the skeleton that Littlefoot's egg rolls down at 6:20 is that of a Parasaurolophus, as shown by the distinctive head crest. Later we see one or two fleeing the earthquake at 18:17.
Referred to as a "Spike Tail". Even though one of the main characters is a Stegosaurus, he was essentially an orphan, so we don't get to see what an adult Stegosaurus looks like until one appears in the sequels.
Rooter's species is never explicitly stated; the script only identifies him as a "spiked, turtle-like Dino." But it is pretty clear from his appearance that he is a Scolosaurus. His most distinguishing features—the nasal horn and two spikes on his tail—are not seen in any actual ankylosaur, but Scolosaurus was erroneously reconstructed that way in the 70s and 80s. Scolosaurus disappeared from popular media once it caught up with the scientific consensus, which had decided in 1971 that Scolosaurus was the same as another ankylosaur, Euoplocephalus. As of 2013, Scolosaurus is considered a separate animal again, although we know that it looked more like other ankylosaurs than the old reconstructions Rooter's design was based on. Is it a coincidence that Rooter, like Grandpa and Grandma Long Neck, looks more like older outdated reconstructions compared to the younger dinosaurs? Interesting to think about.
Painting of Scolosaurus © Zdenek Burian.
Some kind of pterosaur that appears in The Land Before Time at 22:20. The script only refers to them as "Pterodactyls", and when their mother flies away at the end of their sequence in the film, we can see that she has a long tail with a flange at the end, not like Pteranodon at all. Given their domed beaks, the pterosaur that best fits their description is probably Dimorphodon. It isn't known to have a head crest, but then, it seems that several of the long-tailed "rhamphorhynchoid" pterosaurs had soft-tissue head crests that often don't preserve during fossilization. It's possible that some future discovery will prove that Dimorphodon was one of these pterosaurs, but for now we don't know.
Petrie and his family are Pteranodons.
Fuzzy pterosaurs visible in The Land Before Time at 7:40. In a different shot it's clear that they have long-ish tails, and I would guess that they are based on Sordes, as this was the only pterosaur in the 80s and 90s that was known to have any kind of fuzzy integument.
A small reptile with a head crest that appears in The Land Before Time around 7:15. It looks a bit like a chameleon.
Appears in The Land Before Time around 5:00, where it nearly eats the hatchling Ducky. The script refers to it as a "snapping turtle".
I would have guessed that the best candidate for this animal was Proganochelys, an extinct turtle relative which some researchers believe was completely terrestrial, like living tortoises. It reached lengths of about 3 feet, and triple-pointed osteoderms (skin armor) have been found that seem to have lined the back of its neck, which would have given it the same little spikelets seen in the Land Before Time tortoise. But it had a distinctive shell with large knobby protrusions along the margins, which the "snapping turtle" doesn't seem to have.
Definite snapping turtle fossils seem to be few and far between, at least when it comes to types that lived alongside dinosaurs. Some researchers believe that Emarginachelys is a member of Chelydriae, the snapping turtle family, and that idea has been around since well before The Land Before Time, so it may be the best candidate. This turtle is known from the Hell Creek Formation, alongside Triceratops and T. rex. It had robust limbs and a relatively smooth shell margin. Living snapping turtles also have (non-bony) knobs on their necks that may form rows and may be lighter colored than the rest of their scales, which would explain the "spikes" on the turtle's neck.
Appears in the first few minutes of The Land Before Time. Although it does look a lot like a newt, and indeed the script identified it as a "salamander", the first thing that came to mind to me was that it looks like a Hypuronector with a hypothetical dorsal fin. Hypuronector (which means "deep tailed swimmer") was only given a name in 2001, but according to its description it was known by the same name informally for over two decades before that—so, at least as far back as 1981, which is plenty long enough to have inspired the critter we see in The Land Before Time. This would explain the critter's skinny long legs, which are a distinctive feature of Hypuronector.
Appears in The Land Before Time at about 2:50. The script refers to them only as "sea turtles". My first thought would be that this is Archelon due to its popularity, but there is an Archelon in a later film that looks different. This could be another fossil sea turtle such as Protostega or Toxochelys, both of which looked similar. Protostega seems more likely, as it had long pointed front flippers, whereas Toxochelys had more rounded front flippers.
Appears in The Land Before Time at about 6:35. It is identified simply as "lizard" in the script and studio model sheets used for the first film. It isn't the same species as Hypuronector—it is a different color, its tail and dorsal fin are a different shape, and its feet aren't webbed.
Appears very(!) briefly in The Land Before Time around 7:15. Judging by the head shape, it's possible that this is a salamander rather than a lizard.
A small climbing lizard visible in The Land Before Time at 7:40. Most of these small lizards could be anything, but for the sake of trying to identify it as something specific, I'll go ahead and say that with its long neck and climbing ability it could be a drepanosaur such as Megalancosaurus. These were small chameleon analogues that had a birdlike neck and darting head used to snap up insects, instead of a long tongue.
A large dark-colored reptile that burrows up from underground. It is visible in The Land Before Time at around 7:40.
A scarily large reptile visible in The Land Before Time at 7:45.
A green lizard with a dark dorsal stripe, visible in The Land Before Time at 7:50. May be the same as lizard "C".
A gray lizard with a dark dorsal stripe, visible in The Land Before Time at 7:50. May be the same as lizard "D".
A truly tiny animal. It appears in The Land Before Time at 13:55, and is completely dwarfed by the frog that startles it away. It may be a Saltopus or a Scleromochlus.
A tortoise-like creature that appears in The Land Before Time at 23:22, where it steals a berry from a group of pterosaurs by snatching it up with a long chameleon-like tongue. I have no idea what this animal is supposed to be. It isn't even mentioned in the script. The fact that it has no lower shell makes me think that it is not a true tortoise or turtle; it may be something like Doswellia instead. Doswellia was a small sprawling reptile with an armored back but no armor on its belly. Its forelimbs aren't known, so scientists can't be certain, but it has occasionally been suggested to have dug burrows. This idea has been suggested at least as far back as 1980, and some fossil burrows have been attributed to it.
The short snout is inaccurate for Doswellia, but then, the front part of Doswellia's skull is unknown, except for a referred lower jaw. The original description includes several illustrations of the probable skull shape, but someone looking at the partial skull (or images of it) might not have been aware of them.
Appears very briefly in The Land Before Time at 54:55. These are odd little turtles with clawed back feet but flippers for front feet. I don't know of any turtles or turtle-like creatures that looked like this.
Something resembling a Dimetrodon, visible in The Land Before Time at 7:40. It doesn't seem like it can be a Dimetrodon specifically, as there is already a Dimetrodon in the same film and it looks different (and a lot less friendly). It isn't likely to be an Edaphosaurus, since it has sharp teeth and smooth, knobless sail-spines. It could be a Ctenospondylus instead, which resembled Dimetrodon but with a similarly short sail.
A Dimetrodon appears in The Land Before Time at 33:05. The shape of the head and sail actually remind me more of Edaphosaurus than Dimetrodon, but it doesn't have the knobby protrusions on the sail that Edaphosaurus had, and the predatory flicking tongue—and the kids' immediate fear when this animal appears—definitely makes me lean toward it being Dimetrodon.
The forked tongue is certainly inaccurate, considering that Dimetrodon was not a lizard. In fact, today we know that it wasn't even a reptile. I've seen people criticize the fact that Dimetrodon is considered Permian and not Mesozoic, but this is the Land Before Time, after all.
A small fuzzy mammal that appears in The Land Before Time at 4:55. The script refers to the mammal that appears in The Land Before Time as a "rodent", although no true rodent has been found alongside dinosaurs. The most rodent-like were the multituberculates, most of which were squirrel-like, although some lived in burrows like prairie dogs today. But the mammal best known for burrowing (at the time) was probably Docodon, which is known from the Morrison Formation. Docodon was a mammaliaform, but not a "true" mammal (which multituberculates were), which could explain why this little guy doesn't seem to have external ears. Or it could lack ears because it is mole-like; but that still suggests it is Docodon or a close relative, because they were more dedicated diggers than multituberculates. Today we even know that some of them were fully subterranean, like living moles.
What appears to be a platypus is visible in The Land Before Time at about 7:15, when the creatures all gather around to observe the hatchling Littlefoot. This could be a regular platypus, or possibly some kind of extinct monotreme such as Steropodon, which was described in 1985.
Appears in The Land Before Time at 7:20. Not an actual toad, but seemingly some kind of reptile or amphibian with a short, toad-like head. It might be a Cacops or Triadobatrachus; the ridges down its back make it look especially like the former.
A very cute critter visible in The Land Before Time at 7:40. Either a reptile or an amphibian but it's difficult to say which. The eyes in particular remind me of an amphibian. This could be a Gerrothorax or something similar.
Some kind of frog that appears in The Land Before Time at 13:44. This is a true frog, not an animal like Triadobatrachus, as only true frogs had the leg anatomy required to hop. Yet frogs don't typically have tails unless they are pollywogs. The hopper is most likely based on the living tailed frog, which is said to be one of the most primitive kinds of living frog.
A big scary fish that tries to nom the Hypuronector in The Land Before Time around 2:30. The script identifies it as a "prehistoric pike", although living pikes don't have the big rectangular dorsal fin, they have a smaller one set far back on the body, near the tail. This is also true of gars, sturgeons, Saurichthys, Aspidorhynchus and Belonostomus, which would have been my next five guesses if this were based on some other, superficially pike-like fish. It may just be artistic license at work.
A beetle that appears in The Land Before Time around 11:30. It is referred to in the script as a "small furry prehistoric insect," but as it is drawn it does not seem furry and is clearly a beetle. When Cera attempts to eat it, it sprays her with some noxious chemical and flies away. It may be a bombardier beetle, or at least inspired by one, as this is the only family of beetle I know of that has a similar defense.
One of the insects visible in The Land Before Time at 46:15.
A dragonfly appears in The Land Before Time at 6:21 where it is startled by Littlefoot's egg.
A flying insect that appears to investigate hatchling Ducky in The Land Before Time, around 4:35. The script identified it as a "butterfly", although it doesn't quite look like a real butterfly. As unexpected as it is to see such an obscure family in an animated film, I would bet good money that its apppearance was actually based on a kalligrammatid, a kind of extinct lacewing that lived a lifestyle similar to butterflies, and even had butterfly-like wings and probosci.
One of the insects visible in The Land Before Time at 46:15.
One of the insects visible in The Land Before Time at 46:15.
What are tree stars, exactly?
Tree stars look a bit like maple leaves, but maples aren't really known from dinosaur-bearing sediments, so it would be a little odd to see one in a film that otherwise limits itself pretty carefully to "prehistoric" species. Instead of a maple, it might be the leaf of a plane tree (Platanus), which often has a similar shape. Fossil plane tree leaves are known from the Hell Creek, Dinosaur Park, and Scollard Formations, where dinosaurs such as Tyrannosaurus, Triceratops, Anatosaurus, Parasaurolophus and Scolosaurus are also found. And like maples, plane tree sap can be used to make syrup, so its fragrant leaves might indeed have been a sweet treat for dinosaurs tall enough to reach them.
Oriental plane tree leaf from Depositphotos