15 Living Descendants and Relatives of Dinosaurs

Krystal Smith

The interest in dinosaurs is strong, and while these impressive beasts walked the Earth far in the past, what’s left behind of them is surprising. It turns out that dinosaurs’ existence can still be felt in a very unexpected way. Some animals we live with today are the closest relatives to dinosaurs. What they show us is the past world. It’s just amazing to find a connection, through time, between us and those old spirits.


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Birds are the most easily identifiable descendants of dinosaurs. Researchers have noted the evolutionary link between birds and theropod dinosaurs, specifically Tyrannosaurus rex and Velociraptor, for decades. The avian species share many anatomical characteristics with their dinosaurian ancestors, e.g., hollow bones, feathers, and an almost identical skeletal structure.


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Crocodiles are ferocious reptiles with hard, thick skin and elongated snouts, concerning eyes and nostrils at the tip of the nose. They live by fast-flowing rivers to remain hidden from predators and only come into the open during the dry season when they bask in the sun’s heat. While crocodiles may look like a prehistoric throwback, they’re more closely related to dinosaurs than lizards or snakes. Crocs lie at the bottom of a beautiful family tree containing birds and their extinct relatives, the dinosaurs. We know the latter, a rogue class B reptile called the archosaurs, emerged around 250 million years ago, in time to dominate the planet as the Triassic period arrived.


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Like crocodiles, alligators are part of the archosaur family and are considered the surviving relatives of dinosaurs. Many of their features, including armored bodies, massive jaws, and a semiaquatic lifestyle, borrow from their ancestors.


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Exclusive to New Zealand, the tuatara is frequently dubbed a “living fossil” because of its long-standing heritage. Even though they are not descendants of dinosaurs, tuataras fall within the same classification of reptiles that diverged from dinosaurs over 250 million years ago. Numerous old-fashioned characteristics exist in the makeup of tuataras that once roamed the earth during the period of the massive, scaly reptiles, diminishing the number of new traits and enhancing its reliability for research in the evolutionary field.


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Turtles boast a considerable biological lineage that stretches back at least 220 million years, essentially placing them as contemporary creatures to early dinosaurs. Although they don’t descend directly from dinosaurs, turtles share a significant ancestor. Alongside the archosaurs, the kind of creature we consider kinfolk to the dinosaurs, crocodiles, and modern-day birds, turtles have an extremely valuable chain of ancestry that endows them with an incredibly fascinating past.


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Sharks are a group of elasmobranch fish characterized by a cartilaginous skeleton, five to seven-gill slits on the sides of the head, and pectoral fins that are not fused to the head. Modern sharks are classified within the clade Selachimorpha (or Selachii) and are the sister group to the rays. Although they are not the direct descendants of dinosaurs, they are, in fact, among the oldest family of vertebrates in the world, predating dinosaurs by millions of years.

Horseshoe Crabs

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Because their ancient lineage dates back over 450 million years, horseshoe crabs are often called “living fossils.” They are not exactly related to dinosaurs, but they are distant relatives of arthropods, a category whose members include insects, spiders, and crustaceans.


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It may be unexpected, but elephants and dinosaurs have a distant ancestor. The two creatures are part of the large and ancient group known as archosaurs. Despite their vast dissimilarity, these animals share the same ancestors. There may have been so much time between elephants and dinosaurs that it is challenging to believe that there were any similarities. Even more surprising is that elephants still have much more in common with dinosaurs than you may ever imagine.


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The Ostrich (Struthio camelus) is a bird in the ratite group of birds native to Africa. It is the largest bird in the world. They have long legs and long necks and are very fast runners. The largest living bird species is the ostrich, a member of a group of flightless birds known as ratites. This group also includes emus, rheas, cassowaries, and kiwis. The most famous and widespread of these is the ostrich, which inhabits the open lands and desert areas of Africa.

Large Anteaters

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Giant anteaters are part of the Pilosa order, which includes sloths and anteaters. Unlike birds, they do not have direct descendants. These animals did coexist with the dinosaurs during the Mesozoic era and shared ancestors with the mammals that lived during that period. Primitive traits, such as a specialized diet and unique feeding adaptations, have found their way into the giant anteaters, putting them into a group of living fossils.

Komodo Dragons

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Komodo dragons are the largest living lizard species. They are big, fast, and dangerous. This reptile, native to Indonesia, has already been feared and respected—not only for its fearsome natural abilities but also for the exclusive terrain it occupies. Komodo dragons are not the direct descendants of dinosaurs; however, they belong to the order Squamata, which consists of lizards and snakes. Komodo dragons share many primitive characteristics with their ancestral reptiles, such as their carnivorous diet and predatory behavior.


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Tegu’s are big land dwellers found throughout South America. They don’t come from dinosaurs, but they are related to lizards that do. The connection can be seen in the many primitive characteristics of the tegu. These traits include a stretched-out body, sharp claws, and powerful jaws.


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The coelacanth, an ancient fish species, has remained virtually unchanged for the past 400 million years. Though not directly descended from the dinosaur, the coelacanth is a lobe-finned fish and tetrapods—the group of vertebrates that walk on land—likely evolved from something very much like it.


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Belonging to the order Blattodea, cockroaches are one of the oldest insect groups known, with a fossil record extending back at least 300 million years. Although they are not direct descendants of the dinosaurs, they share a common ancestor with insects that coexisted with these ancient reptiles during the Mesozoic Era. Indeed, cockroaches exhibit several primitive traits present in their early insect ancestors, such as their flattened bodies and specialized abdomen, which they use for food storage.


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Platypuses are interesting creatures because they are one of the few mammals that lay eggs instead of giving birth to live young. Furthermore, they possess a waterproof fur coat with webbed feet and a duck-like bill. They can be found in eastern Australia and Tasmania, where they feed on insects, shellfish, and small vertebrates. Despite the animal’s reputation as a solitary creature, platypuses are not in danger of extinction but are still often considered mysterious animals. The platypus is an extraordinary animal native to Australia characterized by its duck-like bill, webbed feet, and ability to lay eggs. While the platypus did not evolve directly from dinosaurs, it is considered a monotreme, a group of mammals that resemble more closely to the ancient ancestors of mammals than modern mammals.

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