It lived during the Cretaceous Period, about 76 million years ago. Troodon was a small, bird-like dinosaur. About 110 pounds and 11 feet tall, it weighed about 110 pounds. Scientists are still uncertain whether it is an ancestor of crocodiles or birds due to its egg-laying behavior.
The brain of Troodon was enormous for its size-even bigger than that of modern reptiles, relatively speaking. As a result, it may have been smarter than the average dinosaur, and perhaps even as intelligent as modern birds. Troodon is often touted as the world’s smartest dinosaur, but this exaggerates its intelligence and obscures its other, equally intriguing characteristics.
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Troodon Is Greek for “Wounding Tooth”
A single tooth discovered in 1856 by the famous American naturalist Joseph Leidy gave rise to the name Troodon (pronounced TRUE-oh-don). Dispersed fragments of Troodon’s hand, foot, and tail were discovered in North America in the early 1930s, but they were initially assigned to the wrong genus.
Troodon Had a Bigger Brain Than Most Dinosaurs
Troodon was notable for its unusually large brain, which was larger in proportion to its 75-pound body than the brains of comparable theropods. According to one analysis, Troodon had a higher “encephalization quotient” than most other dinosaurs, making it the true Albert Einstein of the Cretaceous. Troodon was only about as smart as a chicken, compared to other theropod dinosaurs!
Troodon Flourished in Colder Climates
In addition to a larger brain, Troodon possessed larger eyes than most theropod dinosaurs, suggesting that it either hunted at night or needed to gather in as much light as it could from its cold, dark North American environment (Another dinosaur which followed this evolutionary strategy was the big-eyed Australian ornithopod Leaellynasaura). Having a larger brain is necessary for processing more visual information, which explains Troodon’s relatively high IQ.
Troodon Laid Clutches of 16 to 24 Eggs at a Time
The Troodon is one of the few carnivorous dinosaurs whose parenting routines are known in detail. According to the preserved nesting grounds discovered by Jack Horner in Montana’s Two Medicine Formation, Troodon females laid two eggs each day for a week or two, producing circular clutches of 16 to 24 eggs (of which only a few would have survived being eaten by scavengers before hatching). It’s possible that these eggs were brooded by the male of the species, as is the case with some modern birds.
For Decades, Troodon Was Known as Stenonychosaurus
The American paleontologist Charles H. Sternberg described Stenonychosaurus as a basal theropod closely related to Coelurus in 1932. Paleontologists recognized Stenonychosaurus’ close affinity to the contemporary Asian theropod Saurornithoides only after the discovery of more complete fossil remains in 1969.
It’s Unclear How Many Species Troodon Comprised
Troodon fossils have been found across North America, in Cretaceous sediments as far north as Alaska and (depending on how you interpret the evidence) as far south as New Mexico. As a result of such wide distributions, paleontologists tend to speculate that some “Troodon” species may one day be promoted into their own genera as a result of the genus umbrella becoming too large.
Many Dinosaurs Are Classified as “Troodontids”
Troodontidae are a large family of North American and Asian theropods that share certain characteristics (brain size, teeth arrangement, etc.) with the eponymous genus of the breed. A few of the better-known troodontids include Borogovia (after Lewis Carroll’s poem) and Zanabazar (after a Mongolian spiritual figure), as well as the unusually tiny and delicate Mei, which also has one of the shortest names in the dinosaur book.
Troodon Had Binocular Vision
Troodon’s eyes were not only larger than normal, but they were also set toward the front rather than the side of its face—indicating advanced binocular vision, which enabled it to hunt small, skittering prey. The eyes of many herbivorous animals are set toward the sides of their heads, allowing them to detect approaching carnivores. Troodon’s forward-facing anatomy, so similar to that of humans, may also explain its reputation as an intelligent dinosaur.
Troodon May Have Enjoyed an Omnivorous Diet
Considering Troodon’s characteristic eyes, brain, and grasping hands, you might think it was built for a predatory lifestyle. Nonetheless, it is possible that this dinosaur was an opportunistic omnivore, feeding on seeds, nuts, fruits, as well as smaller mammals, birds, and dinosaurs. It is still unclear what Troodon’s preferred diet was, but one study suggests his teeth were adapted for chewing soft meat rather than fibrous vegetables.
Troodon Might Eventually Have Evolved a Human Level of Intelligence
Dale Russell speculated 65 million years ago about what might have happened if Troodon had survived the K/T Extinction. According to Russell’s “counterfactual” history, Troodon evolved into a two-legged, intelligent reptile with big eyes, partially opposable thumbs, and three fingers on each hand—and looked and acted like a modern human. A few people take this theory a bit too literally, claiming that we are still surrounded by human-like “reptoids” today.