Theropods, sauropods, and ornithopods were not the most attractive creatures ever to walk the earth, so it’s no surprise that some theropods, sauropods, and ornithopods were uglier than others. Not only did these dinosaurs have buck teeth, flabby thighs, and unsightly head growths, but they also didn’t have access to spa vacations or plastic surgery. The ten dinosaurs most in need of a complete Mesozoic makeover can be found on the following slides.
Raptors were the ballerinas of the dinosaur family, with their slender, taut-sinewed legs and petite trunks. That was not the case with Balaur, whose low center of gravity and well-muscled thighs made it the Cretaceous equivalent of an overly trained Olympic gymnast—think Nadia Comaneci on steroids.
Why was Balaur such an unappealing raptor? You can blame it on the dinosaur’s island habitat; animals that are isolated from the mainstream of evolution develop some very strange physiques.
Nigersaurus fits the Cretaceous bill perfectly if the next Land Before Time sequel requires a dopey-looking dinosaur. To begin with, its proportions were unusual (note the shorter-than-usual neck), but what really set it apart was its vacuum-cleaner-like snout, which was packed with hundreds of teeth arranged in dozens of separate columns. Nigersaurus’ dental apparatus was very similar to that of its distant ornithopod cousins—and if you’ve read this far, you already know that ornithopods weren’t exactly Angelina Jolies of the Mesozoic Era.
What Balaur was to raptors, Brontomerus was to the sauropods, a family of giant, quadrupedal, plant-eating dinosaurs: a squat, inoffensive, stocky-legged, five-ton runt (the name Brontomerus, by the way, is Greek for “thunder thighs”).
Why did Brontomerus have such an odd body? Paleontologists believe that this sauropod evolved its well-muscled legs to climb steep gradients while living in exceptionally hilly terrain.
Hippodraco, the “horse dragon,” is the name that conjures up an odd medieval chimera. But you’ll be disappointed by learning that this evocatively named dinosaur resembled neither a horse nor a dragon. Hippodraco had the classic body plan of its more famous contemporary Iguanodon, but to a greater extent. It had a small, unattractive head, a bloated trunk, and a standard tail. Ornithopods are frequently compared to wildebeest, the “box lunches of the Serengeti.”
Isisaurus, also known as the Indian Statistical Institute Lizard, is one of the few titanosaurs discovered in the subcontinent, and it’s an odd duck. Based on its exceptionally long neck, massive, well-muscled front legs, and stunted hind legs. This plant-eater must have resembled a giant, hairless, tiny-brained hyena. And if you watch PBS nature documentaries regularly, you already know that hyenas aren’t exactly the Ashton Kutchers of the animal kingdom.
Jeyawati, another ornithopod from the middle Cretaceous period of North America. It was cursed not only by its membership in this unusually unappealing family of dinosaurs, but also by the unwelcome addition of a wrinkly gullet and two distinctly unappealing ridges around its beady little eyes. This dinosaur name Zuni Indian for “grinding mouth,” refers to the numerous teeth it used to chew tough vegetables; watching this ornithopod from afar must have been worse than watching it eat up close.
Unfortunately, orthodontists were scarce during the late Cretaceous period. No dinosaur needed braces more than Masiakasaurus, whose front teeth angled out prominently from the end of its snout. Also it was probably used to snag fish from the rivers of Madagascar). Depending on your taste in rock stars, the fact that its species name (Masiakasaurus knopfleri) honors Dire Straits guitarist Mark Knopfler may or may not influence your opinion of this dinosaur’s appearance.
Its name, riddled with plosives like “p,” “g,” and “x,” is ominous in and of itself. Pegomastax, which was discovered in 2012, may have been the ugliest ornithopod that ever lived. Given the other genera on this list, including Hippodraco, Jeyawati, and Tianyulong, that’s quite a distinction). Not only did the strangely beaked Pegomastax (“thick jaw”) have two prominent fangs, but its entire body was covered in bristles; thankfully, this hideous dinosaur was only about two feet long from head to tail.
Therizinosaurs were endearingly gangly, with long beaks, pot bellies, and oversized hands that made them appear as harmless as Big Bird. Suzhousaurus was the exception that proved: with an ominously bald neck and head and a thickly muscled. Rather than cutely feathered torso, this therizinosaur may have resembled a vulture rather than an oversized canary. Of course, the appeal of Suzhousaurus depends on which paleo-artist depicts it; for all we know, this dinosaur was as cuddly as Yogi Bear!
What exactly is it with ornithopods? Tianyulong, the fourth plant-eating dinosaur on this list, was certainly the smallest and arguably the ugliest. Tianyulong appears to have been covered in sharp, bristly proto-feathers. Making it only the second identified non-theropod dinosaur to be so adorned (along with the previously listed Pegomastax). Imagine a feathered cat or a furry parrot, and you can see why Dinosaurs Tianyulong and its ilk will not be appearing in any Jurassic Park sequels anytime soon.