There are many animals that resemble prehistoric animals. Alligators, lizards, emus, and many more could be compared to dinosaurs in lots of ways. The rhinoceros has many similar appearance traits of a dinosaur. Some people even refer to the rhino as a modern or the last living dinosaur. But is it considered a dinosaur by classification standards?
The rhinoceros, or rhino, is not a dinosaur. Dinosaurs are classified as reptiles, while rhinos are mammals. That is the biggest and most compelling difference. There are some interesting distinctions between the two classifications. While it is understandable to initially think that rhinos may be a dinosaur, there are some facts that point to the opposite conclusion.
The Rhinoceros is such a unique creature. There are many things to consider when comparing them to dinosaurs. Also, they have an interesting history of their own. So while we at look at why Rhino’s are not dinosaurs, we will also take a look at where the rhino did come from and why it is often, understandably, confused with a dinosaur in the article below.
Is a Rhino a Dinosaur?
It is not that strange to wonder if a rhino could be a modern-day dinosaur. They have a unique set of traits that are unlike any others. These include their size, the horns on their head, the think apparently armoured skin, and if we still think of dinosaurs as aggressive bad tempered animals rhinos can certainly match up there as well. Some of the dinosaurs they resemble had similar diets, eating tough plants and grasses in open ( mostly) areas.
However a rhinoceros is not a dinosaur. It is a mammal and descended from hooved animals like tapirs, horses and even zebras ( these are scientifically known as odd-toed ungulates. – it means very basically they walk on three toes – there are more differences and you can read those here and here)
There are similarities between a rhino and a dinosaur and we take a look at those as well as th differences next.
Similarities between Rhinos and Dinosaurs
We will go into more details about the differences between Rhinoceros and dinosaurs below but the following list highlights that as well as differences there are of course, as with most living things, some similarities as well.
Rhinos and dinosaurs do share a few traits.
- They both are vertebrates meaning they have backbones. Many dinosaurs were able to stand upright. Rhinos, of course, cannot.
- They both breathe oxygen through at least one lung. Rhinos use two lungs, but many reptiles only use one. Still, breathing oxygen is necessary for both to live.
- They had horns, which while not all dinosaurs have some certainly did like the ceratopsians.
- They are huge! Again while plenty of dinosaurs were actually quite small, we think of them as huge animals most of the time.
- Both are now thought to be warm blooded.
Differences between Rhinos and Dinosaurs
For all that is similar between the two there is more that is different, the most important of these is the classification Dinosaurs are still ( currently) classed as a type of reptiles and Rhinos are a Mammal, the fact that dinosaurs are now extinct ( with the exception of modern birds) and rhinos still ( again both currently and precariously) live today is another huge difference, and one of those mammalian traits, giving birth to live young and the feeding of them with milk is yet another huge difference.
There are other differences and we have put both the similarities and differences between rhinos and dinosaurs in a table to make it easier to understand.
Table 1: Differences and Similarities between Rhinoceros and Dinosaurs.
|Distinguishing Feature||Rhinoceros||Dinosaurs||Same or different?|
|Scientific Classification||Mammals||Reptiles ( dinosauria)||Different: Scientifically there are many differences between a reptile / dinosaur and a mammal.|
|Reproduction method||Mammals give birth to live young after a period of time in the womb.||Dinosaurs laid eggs and hatch young from them||Different: One of the classification factors of dinosaurs is the ability to lay eggs. Rhinos certainly have never done that.|
|Warm or cold blood||Mammals are warm blooded and have the ability to regulate their own body temperature.||Although reptiles are generally cold blooded lacking the ability to regulate their own body temperature. It is increasingly thought that dinosaurs were warm blooded to a degree||Different: Although less different than initially thought. Dinosaurs are thought to be warm blooded though not quite the same as mammals are today|
|Skin and covering||Rhinos are covered in skin, and hair although rhinos have less hair than other mammals||Retiles are covered with scales, dinosaurs with a mix of scales and feathers.||Different: Although more dinosaurs are thought to have had scales than feathers, mammals have skin and hair.|
|Horns||Modern Rhinos have horns, however this was not always the case especially in early Rhinoceros.||Some dinosaurs had horns, the ceratopsians especially like Triceratops||Similar: Both Rhinos and some dinosaurs had horns, and some of both did not!|
|Size||Although rhinos today can be 5000 lbs, early rhinos could be up to 44,000 lbs and 15 feet tall.||Dinosaurs, those thought similar to modern day rhinos were larger, however earlier rhinos could be twice the size of the largest ceratopsian.||Similar: Both were able to be huge in size|
|Alive or Extinct||Alive ( just)||Extinct for 66 million years||Different: The rhino is currently alive which makes it not a dinosaur. Although it is under huge threat of extinction.|
|How long alive for||Rhinos, at least their very early ancestors are thought to be 55 to 60 million years old||Dinosaurs were thought to have lived for about 180 million years before extinction.||Similar: Both successfully lived on the planet for millions of years.|
|Care for Young / feeding||As their name origin suggests, mammal babies rely on mother’s milk.||Reptile babies typically eat bugs and limited fruits and vegetation.||Different: Although the parental instincts of dinosaurs are under constant research currently although dinosaurs may have cared for their young, there is no evidence they produced milk to do so.|
Are Rhinos related to Triceratops?
Due to the fame of one particular horned (ceratopsian) dinosaur it is often said that a rhino and a triceratops must be related in some way. The horns, the size, the armoured thick skin, the diet there is certainly a lot they have in common.
However as we have explained above the Rhinoceros is a mammal, and one alive today and the triceratops is a dinosaur that went extinct over 66 million years ago. With Rhinos splitting from a common ancestor with the tapir around 55 to 60 million years ago they can not be related although those 5 million years are evolutionary speaking close in time.
Also, despite appearances even if dinosaurs could be related there are horned dinosaurs that have much more in common with a Rhinoceros than the triceratops. We take a look at a couple of those below. Remember they are still not related, and just superficially resemble a rhino.
What Dinosaur Looks Like a Rhino?
Although often suggested that it resembles a Triceratops, in fact there are dinosaurs closer in appearance and also size. Triceratops was about double the size of a modern Rhino, and has three horns rather than a rhinoceros one or two ( although there were Rhinos with two large horns further down the evolutionary tree like the Arsinoitherium Picture below.
However dinosaurs like the Styracosaurus and the Sinoceratops all were of comparable, if slightly, large sizes and also had one prominent horn on their faces. Although as you can see from the picture of the styracosaurus the frill and its many other pointy horns make it quite different.
The weight of both this dinosaur and a rhino is much closer than a rhino and a triceratops however, a white rhino can weigh up to 2300 Kg ( 5000 Lbs) and the styracosaurus is though to be up to 2700 Kg ( 6000lbs)
Where as a triceratops is much larger and could top the scales at over 6-12000 kg ( 13 to 25,000 lbs) which is way larger than any Rhino alive today though not larger than the largest ever rhino family member Paraceratherium at up to 44,000 lbs.
Which had Longer Horns: A Rhino or a Triceratops?
One of the main reasons that people may think that a rhinoceros may be a dinosaur are at least a relative of one are the huge horns that some members of both families have on their faces.
However there are members of both these families and groups of animals that evolved with no horns at all, even the largest Rhinoceros the Paraceratherium ( we look at this below) had no horns when it walked the Earth about 34 to 23 million years ago.
However the fact remains that horns are what both the rhino and the ceratopsians are famous for and it may come as a surprise that the largest of the these horns do not below to the dinosaurs.
A triceratops horn, one of the largest of this group, and with the largest horns measured about 4 feet long, while even todays white rhinoceros has been found to have a horn over 5 feet long. That’s a clear foot longer than triceratops,
Earlier members of the Rhinoceros family have had even longer horns, for example the Wooly Rhinoceros could also have a horn up to 5 feet long in extreme cases.
What Did the Rhino Evolve From?
So what did the rhino evolve from, as although the rhinoceros may look like a modern day dinosaur we now know it is not related at all, The rhino is actually descended from the tapir family and even that was a very long time ago. It is thought that Rhinos and tapirs split from their common ancestor about 55 to 60 million years ago! Thats only 5 to 6 million years after the extinction of the dinosaurs.
Tapirs, in case you don’t know, are hog like in appearance and have the snout that looks like the rhino without the horns. although considerably smaller now, they still exist today and havent changed too much ( just like the rhino) in those 60 million years. We have a picture of both below so you can compare.
A tapir is a herbivore like a rhino and ate grasses and plant life and while not reaching the sizes of the largest of rhinos was still able to reach 800lbs in the species alive today.
OTher relatives of the Rhinoceros were other hoofed animals like horses, and in fact as we discuss below these early “running Rhinoceros” looked more like horses than rhinos we would recognise today.
We have a Few other fascinating facts about Rhinos worth knowing even if they are not dinosaurs!
When was the first Rhino?
One of the first Rhinoceros was called the Hyracodontidae and lived in what is now Asia, China Pakistan and even to Europe about 50 million years ago. It changed over those 50 million years and though both grew and reduced in size over that time is now a huge mammal and second only to the elephant in weight.
Though that wasn’t always the case as you will read below. When the first rhinos evolved they were about the size of an average dog, and grew into animals about the size of horses and then animals twice as large as a bull African Elephant before reducing in size somewhat to the animals we know and can see today.
What was the Largest Rhinoceros?
The largest ever Rhinoceros was called the Paraceratherium, which means near horned beast ( as a clue to its descendants) and it lived about 34 to 23 million years ago. Although incomplete the fossils that have been found range from Europe to Asia and clearly indicate a massive animal that could be twice the size of a large elephant and almost as tall as a giraffe!
Estimates, though based on these minimal fossil findings have the Paraceratherium weighing 15 to 20000 kg ( 33-44000 lbs) with a length of up to 7.4 metres ( 25 feet) and a height to the shoulder at 4.8 metres (15.7 feet) which is comparable to a giraffe without the ling legs and elongated neck!
At that size it had few to no predators, simialr to the modern Elelphant but bigger!
Why are Rhinos Called the Last Living Dinosaurs
Rhinoceros are often referred to as the last living dinosaurs, and the reasons are pretty clear. They have survived, as a family at least, for approaching 60 million years, and like crocodiles and alligators there has not been a huge change in their bascia appearance.
they have evolved to be bigger, or smaller over that time, and horns have evolved in various shapes and sizes, and even during the ice age we had one covered with hair like a huge highland cattle but they have not fundamentally changed.
Their size, horns, skin and even appearance makes them look pre hsitoric because they are basically prehistoric, they have adapted to the environment and have not needed to change dramatically in that time.
So along with crocodiles and alligators they are the closest, at least looking if not scientifically and biologically, modern animals we have to dinosaurs.
One More Similarity between Rhinos and Dinosaurs We Do Not Want
Unfortunately, Rhinos are considered to be critically endangered. Because of poaching, they rarely can survive outside of protected resets and parks. Poaching is the illegal killing of animals and taking body parts that can be illegally sold.
The Rhinoceros is an incredibly unique creature. Not many animals look so much like their prehistoric ancestors. Although they are not dinosaurs, they have a rich heritage and thoughtful history. Surely something that has survived 60 million years of changes should be allowed at least the chance to survive its living at the same time as us as well.
We have a few in a series of articles about other animals that may or may not be related to dinosaurs on the site, some are listed below. Feel free to take a look.
- Are Crocodiles related to dinosaurs?
- Are Alligators dinosaurs
- Are Sharks related to dinosaurs
- Are Turtles related to dinosaurs
- Are Lizards related to dinosaurs
- Is a Chicken a dinosaur?
Hi, I am a General Studies and English Teacher who has taught all over the world. What started as a fossil collection became a great way to teach, motivate and inspire students of all ages and all over the world about dinosaurs