Go on a Jurassic scavenger hunt
Imagine yourself back to the time of the dinosaurs. What can you see? We've created a scavenger hunt that will help bring that time to life for you.
If you could travel back to the Jurassic Period (201-145 million years ago) and look around, you'd find that many of the plants and animals that surround us now were missing. But you might be surprised by how much of the wildlife we can see today already existed - not the same species, but close relatives.
Dr Paul Kenrick is a Museum palaeobotanist - he researches prehistoric plants and helps us imagine what ancient environments were like. Paul has picked out five plants for you to hunt for, which can be found in parks and gardens in the UK today.
Plants and dinosaurs weren't the only wildlife around in the Jurassic Period, so we've included five animals to look out for, too.
What to do:
Option 1: Simply see how many of the plants and animals you can spot.
Option 2: Choose a set of challenges to complete from the list below.
You will need:
- a pencil
- a print out of our Jurassic scavenger hunt checklist PDF (60.1MB) so that you can tick items off as you find them
For option 2, you may also need (depending on the challenges you select):
- scrap paper to draw on
- a camera or mobile phone with a camera
- (optional) to download the Dippy's Naturenauts app and play the Tree safari game to make a digital rubbing
Suitable for winter: 1, 2, 6, 7, 8 (fish and mammal)
1. Collect a fallen pine cone
2. Make a rubbing of monkey puzzle tree bark or pine tree bark
If you can't reach the tree's trunk, you could use the Dippy's Naturenauts app to make a digital rubbing of the bark instead, or take a photo.
3. Draw or take a photo of a fern
4. Find a gingko leaf on the ground
In summer gingko leaves are green but in autumn they turn bright yellow. Tree branches are bare by wintertime.
5. Draw a picture of a horsetail
These plants are likely to be harder to find as they tend to grow in wet areas such as marshes or ditches or beside streams, rivers and ponds. In some areas field horsetail (Equisetum arvense) grows in gardens and, more commonly, on wasteland. It is considered an invasive weed. Great horsetail (Equisetum telmateia) can also be abundant by roadsides and railway lines, while wood horsetail. (Equisetum sylvaticum) grows in some woodland areas (BSBI map).
Horsetails die back in winter and their stems won't be spotted again above ground until spring, so don't be disheartened if you don't see one. Most importantly, stay safe while you're looking - keep away from water, roads and railway lines.
Some horsetails you can find in the UK today
6. Collect a feather from the floor
Some of the meat-eating dinosaurs around in the Jurassic had feathers, for example Anchiornis and Sciurumimus.
7. Find an actual dinosaur
No, we don't mean one of the giant sauropods that the Jurassic Period is famous for, such as Brachiosaurus or Diplodocus, but a genuine, modern-day dinosaur: a bird. Draw or take a photo of your bird.
8. Tick the PDF if you see any of the following animals:
- a beetle
- a fish
- frogspawn, a tadpole or an adult frog
- a mammal (for example, a mouse, rabbit, squirrel, hedgehog, cat, dog, cow or horse)
Any mammals you're likely to spot today will almost certainly be bigger than the ones around in the Jurassic Period. Few were larger than mice.
Learn more about Jurassic wildlife
Did you know?
Jurassic forests were filled with conifer trees. Pine trees were around but not common. Many of the conifers would have looked like monkey puzzle trees. In the Jurassic Period this family of conifers (Araucariaceae) grew worldwide and was much more diverse than today.
Ferns in the Jurassic
Ferns were once much more abundant than they are today. If flowering plants hadn't evolved, perhaps they still would be.
Some Jurassic ferns looked very similar to those around today, including those we can find growing wild in woods, parks and gardens. Even exotic-looking tree ferns still exist and grow wild in tropical countries.
Prehistoric gingko trees
Gingko leaves have a very distinctive fan shape. Only one species survives: Ginkgo biloba, also called the maidenhair tree. While its leaves are unlike those of any other trees around today, they are very similar to fossilised gingko leaves from the time of the dinosaurs.
Ginkgo biloba is native to eastern Asia but the trees are popular in gardens, parks and even town centres around the world.
Horsetails in the age of the dinosaurs
Horsetails are unusual plants, related to ferns, that grow in clumps and look a bit like green toilet brushes planted upside down. Thin stems sprout from joints along hollow stems.
The Equisetum horsetails around today generally grow to around 30-150 centimetres tall (although the giant horsetail (Equisetum myriochaetum) is a tropical species that often reaches three to five metres). At the time of dinosaurs, there was much more variety and some species grew at least ten metres high.
Paul says, 'Jurassic dinosaurs lived in a lush green landscape.
'One of the most noticeable differences between plant life in the Jurassic and today would be the lack of grass. Evidence suggests grasses didn't evolve until after the Jurassic Period, towards the end of the Cretaceous Period.
'Rather than munching on huge amounts of grass as many large herbivores do today, plant-eating dinosaurs in the Jurassic such as Diplodocus, Cetiosaurus, Stegosaurus and Scelidosaurus would have eaten ferns, horsetails and conifer leaves, as well as many extinct plants.'
Animal life at the time of the dinosaurs
Insects in the Jurassic included beetles, flies, crickets and dragonflies.
Fish were around long before dinosaurs. In fact, fish were the first vertebrates (animals with backbones) on Earth.
In addition to dinosaurs, animal life on land also included frogs, lizards, crocodiles and turtles, as well as the now-extinct flying reptiles, pterosaurs. Small mammals were around too.
These early mammals were tiny, similar to shrews today, and ate insects and small reptiles. Repenomamus, which lived around 125 million years ago in the Cretaceous Period, is a special case. It was about the size of a cat or badger and is the only mammal known to have fed on dinosaurs.
Additional image credits:
Pine cone image courtesy of Max Pixel (CC0)
Monkey puzzle tree image courtesy of pxhere (CC0)
Gingko leaf image courtesy of ulleo via Pixabay
Feather image courtesy of m z via PublicDomainPictures.net (CC0)
Small mammal image courtesy of Hans via Pixabay
Grass image courtesy of LoggaWiggler via Pixabay