Dinosaur News! Were Your Favorite Prehistoric Beasts Actually Aquatic?


Dinosaurs are the coolest ever. Massive 100-ton reptiles with massive tails, ruling the massive world. Some we can picture on four legs, their elongated necks supporting their small heads as they peacefully dip for a drink at a watering hole. Or agile two-legged beasts running around collapsing trees in the forest, pouncing on scurrying prey. But were they really frolicking through the forest? Independent research biologist Brian J Ford says no way. Ford proposed in the science publication Laboratory News that dinosaurs were primarily aquatic creatures.


Ford suggests that the weight would have been too great for a land dinosaur to realistically bare. Additionally, he finds fault in the idea that dinosaurs would have evolved to hold their massive tails off the ground, and yet we see no dragging marks in dinosaur tracks. Ford proposes, instead, that large dinosaurs lived in 15-30 foot lakes with the majority of their body underwater, similar to the the way crocodiles or hippopotamuses immerse themselves.

From Ford’s Article:

We thus have a set of factors that makes the largest dinosaurs seem impracticable as a product of evolution. They are massive, whereas their surviving spoors suggest that they cannot have been so heavy or they would have sunk into the mud across which they walked. They also developed colossal caudal structures which, in conventional portrayals, are held aloft and do not drag on the ground. Finally, and crucial to my understanding of how dinosaurs are supposed to have functioned, they typically evolved to walk erect, thus forcing the hind limbs alone to bear the burden. An adult T. rex is reckoned to have had a mass of up to seven tonnes, which must have been supported by a single limb when the animal moved…. There are many controversies that remain, yet most of the paradoxes that surround the study of the dinosaurs are resolved by making this change in concept. Dinosaurs look more convincing in water, and the physics stands up more soundly. All the while we were speculating in science on those remarkable creatures, this single, crucial factor eluded palaeontologists: dinosaurs were aquatic.

Ford’s ideas have been met with push-back from the paleontological community. Says Dr. Paul Barrett, a palaeontologist at the Natural History Museum in London, “This idea was very popular from around the 1920s, but since the 1960s we have demonstrated with the help of engineering work on load-bearing structures, that dinosaurs had more than enough muscle strength in their legs to get around easily on land. They were engineered for it.”


I’m not going to pretend to be any sort of remote expert on dinosaurs, but I do think they’re cool and we would probably be friends if we ever met. Regardless of where the science lands on this one, Ford’s article is a fascinating read and an interesting exercise in changing one’s imagination viewpoint. At the very least, it’s worth watching Ford’s adorable video introduction.

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Lizz is a consumer, lover and writer of all things pop culture and the Fashion/Style Editor at Autostraddle.com. She is also full time medical student at Brown University in Providence, RI. You can find her on the twitter, the tumblr or even on the instagram.

Lizz has written 261 articles for us.


  1. I grew a bigger interest than what I already had in dinosaurs because of this autistic kid I would spend time with. He would read to me and I would socialize with him, but what intrigued me the most was his knowledge of dinosaurs! He was able to identify dinosaurs by foot prints and such! He was an awesome kid:)

  2. ROAR or GLUB GLUB I’m in a tub?

    For some reason this article is giving me an existential crisis about the dinosaurs I loved in Land Before Time expect for duckie she was bi, I mean amphibious which is like being bi, which is totally cool. They don’t see elements just space to *be* themselves.

  3. Unfortunately, Doctor Ford’s hypothesis is nonsense. It’s not even a new idea – over a hundred years ago, most palaeontologists did, in fact, think that large dinosaurs were aquatic, for the reasons that Doctor Ford suggests – that otherwise they wouldn’t be able to hold their massive bodies up. Then palaeontologists researched the subject based on evidence from thousands of specimens and biomechanical calculations, which is available in hundreds of papers that Doctor Ford completely ignores, and demonstrated that even the largest dinosaurs were perfectly capable of standing up and walking about on dry land.

    • Yeah I gathered as much from the comments on his article. I figured this must at least be stirring things up otherwise the BBC wouldn’t have reported on it this morning.

  4. Why would you publish an outdated opinion that ignores most of current scientific theory on this subject? It’s great that you like dinosaurs, but why not report on the vast treasure trove of highly well considered and evaluated literature out there?

    • I think it’s still important to learn from all sorts of theories and ideas whether they turn out to be accurate or not. I mean science is basically meant to answer questions. It’s constantly proving and disproving things. As a geophysics major , I was still required to learn about all kinds of theories that now sound pretty ridiculous but like I said it’s still pretty useful. Anyway, I really enjoyed this article! I was sooo glad to find two of my favorite subjects on the same site, girls and dinosaurs. As usual, you rock Autostraddle!

  5. With that said Jen, man and dinosaur existed at the same time. The next “logical” leap in that was of course man domesticated the dinosaur and rode them like horses like the Flinstones!****

    ****I heard that from someone mocking Creationists but that would be awesome seriously. Would PETA be against that?

    • Sadly, you’re not that far off. The Creation Museum in Kentucky has a statue of a triceratops with a saddle that kids can ride

      • Really??
        I’d totally become a creationist if it meant I could ride a triceratops!!!

  6. “We thus have a set of factors that makes the largest dinosaurs seem impracticable as a product of evolution”

    Oooh man, quote-mining creationists are going to go crazy with this one.

  7. I’m not sure why, but imagining a dinosaur partially underwater is a terrifying thought to me. Now I feel pretty lame. I am afraid of a dead thing.

    • VeLESiraptor
      Or, if she’s bi (though apparently that’s just as controversial as whether dinosaurs were aquatic): BI-rannosaurus rex

  8. Dr. Ford would like add as a side note that Godzilla also spends most of his time at sea.

  9. aww, his video intro makes me miss Wash! “Aaagh! Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!”

  10. Has anybody else ever been to the absolutely fabulous mostly-dinosaur Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana? It’s affiliated with Montana State University and truly is one of the best-done museums I’ve ever seen (I say this as someone who is going into the museum profession). It’s really educational, with great labeling, interactive features, and is kept current with the latest scientific research, not to mention is AWESOME and REALLY FASCINATING. But anyway, I bring it up because I’m pretty sure there’s at least one extensive feature at that museum which explains how dinosaurs managed to walk on land while supporting their heavy tails.

    And if you ever go to Montana or live near there, btw, oh my god, GO TO THE MUSEUM OF THE ROCKIES.

  11. Thanks for posting about dinosaurs! I try to learn more about them every day because I am secretly a raptor.

  12. I spent a large part of my childhood wanting to be a paleontologist and I still love dinosaurs in my adulthood. This was fun to read and made me think for a moment. I’m on #TeamLandCreatures for this one though.

  13. This is a very old theory to explain the dinosaurs’ large size. Just like many of the theories that try to explain their gigantic size it has a major difficulty. The theory that the dinosaurs lived in water only explains why one group of animals were colossal but we know that all life was shifted towards a larger scale during the dinosaurs’ time. Insects, plants and crocodiles were also larger. This is why only a theory that can affect all life – like dinosaurs’ gravity (Google it) – explains life’s larger size during the dinosaurs time. The dinosaurs’ world was a Reduced Gravity Earth.

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