One of the first dinosaurs to be found, Iguanodon had strong back legs with three-toed feet and hoof-like nails.
Iguanodon usually walked on all fours but sometimes got about on just its hind legs. It weighed as much as an elephant.
Famed as being one of the first dinosaurs to be scientifically recognized, Iguanodon became something of a wastebasket taxon over the years. It was thought to have been a four-footed, rhinoceros-like animal until complete skeletons were found in a mine in Belgium in the 1880s. Thereafter, it was restored in a kangaroo-like pose. Now it is largely regarded as a four-footed animal once more.
Name: Iguanodon, meaning ‘iguana tooth’
Size: up to 10m long and 5m high
Food: plants and leaves
Lived: about 120-110 million years ago in the Early Cretaceous Period in Europe, Mongolia, North Africa
Iguanodon is the archetypal ornithopod. Its head is narrow and beaked, with tough, grinding teeth. Its hands consist of three weight-bearing fingers with hooves. It has a massive spike on the first finger used for defence or gathering food, and a prehensile fifth finger that works like a thumb. The hind legs are heavy and the three toes are weight-bearing. The long, deep tail balanced the animal as it walked.
Although Iguanodon was found and named by Mantell in 1825, the description was based only on teeth. In 2000 the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature ruled the type species to be I. bernissartensis described in 1881, based on complete skeletons from Belgium.
Scientists speculate that Iguanodon probably walked on its toes, like a cat or dog. When chased by a predator, it could run at speeds of 35km/h. Iguanodon’s tail was stiff and flat, and this helped it to keep its balance.
Several skeletons of Iguanodon have been found close together. This is a clue to the fact that they lived in groups or herds. Iguanodon was the second dinosaur to be named (after Megalosaurus), in 1825.
Iguanodon had very strange hands. These had four fingers and a pointed thumb that resembled a spike. Iguanodon could only move this spike from side to side and used it as a weapon to defend itself. Iguanodon was a herbivore and used its fourth finger to hook down branches for food.
Most of Iguanodon’s day was probably spent searching for food and then chewing it up. It had no teeth at the front of its jaws but used its bony beak to bite off leaves. its back teeth were like an iguana’s, but much larger. There were about a hundred of them.
In 1878, in the small town of Bernissart in Belgium, miners working 322m down a shaft struck a mass of fossil bones. They had dug right through the skeleton of an Iguanodon. Finally, the bones of 39 Iguanodon were discovered there, and were put together. The complete skeletons can still be seen in the Royal Institute of Natural Sciences in Belgium.