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The Clown Prince of Dinosaurs: which one is most like the Joker?
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The Clown Prince of Dinosaurs: which one is most like the Joker?

Inspired by ‘Jurassic World: Dominion.’

As part of an interview with Empire, Colin Trevorrow, director of Jurassic World and this summer’s Jurassic World: Dominion, teased the personality of the latter film’s dinosaur antagonist, Giganotosaurus, saying, “I just wanted something that felt like the Joker. It wants to watch the world burn.”

It’s easy to see why Trevorrow might think Giganotosaurus would be a good villain. A carcharodontosaurid from ~98 million years ago, Giganotosaurus carolinii was a carnivore that rivaled T. rex in size, though it roamed what is now Argentina nearly 30 million years before the Tyrant made its mark in North America. Such an animal makes a perfect antagonist for the franchise’s ”hero” dinosaur, Rexy. In fact, such a conflict was teased in a ”prologue” released last year.

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(Also, before you embarrass yourself in front of your 4-year-old, it’s important to point out this animal’s name is Giga-noto-saurus, meaning “Giant Southern Lizard,” not Gigant-o-saurus, which is a wholly different thing altogether. The specific name, carolinii, honors Rubén D. Carolini, who found the fossil.)

The Clown Prince of Dinosaurs: which one is most like the Joker?
Artist’s depiction of Giganotosaurus (human for scale)

But for my money, Giganotosaurus isn’t actually much like the Joker. For one, as previously mentioned, it lived ~30 million years before T. Rex, meaning that the two would never have met. In fact, it was the demise of the large-bodied carcharodontosaurs that allowed for tyrannosaurs to fill that ecological niche. In some ways, though, that could make Giganotosaurus like Joaquin Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck from the 2019 Joker.

So this raises the natural question: which dinosaur is the most like the Joker?

To be honest, I don’t readily associate the Joker with any kind of animal. Batman’s rogues gallery is already a menagerie of animal-themed villains — Catwoman, Penguin, Man-Bat, Killer Croc, Firefly, the Court of Owls, just to name a few. To associate the Joker with a dinosaur presents a bit of a challenge. We know very little about dinosaur behavior, so how are we supposed to know which ones would vandalize artwork while jamming out to Prince?

AIPT’s media manager David Brooke suggested Oviraptor as a possible Joker. A quick glance at either Oviraptor or their family certainly inspires the imagination. The cassowary wannabes had weird crests, feathery tail fans that may have been used for mating displays (which are always better with Prince), and the name Oviraptor literally means ”egg thief,” which sounds like a crime worthy of Cesar Romero’s painted over mustache.

The Clown Prince of Dinosaurs: which one is most like the Joker?
Artist’s depiction of Oviraptor (Sydney Mohr)

There are two problems with that ID, though. Oviraptor philoceratops (and thus the entire group of oviraptorosaurs) has a very misleading name. This is something that was actually noted by the animal’s describer, renowned paleontologist Henry Fairfield Osborn, in the actual description: “The generic and specific names of this animal, Oviraptor, signifying the ‘egg seizer,’ philoceratops, signifying ‘fondness for ceratopsian eggs,’ may entirely mislead us as to its feeding habits and belie its character.”

In hindsight, this is the exact type of mistake you’d expect from the founder of the American Eugenics Society, and it turns out he was right about being wrong. Studies of various oviraptorosaurs have actually found them caring for their eggs.

The second problem is a matter of size. Most oviraptorosaurs were smaller than an adult human, making them far too easy for our BatTyrantman to swallow whole. The Joker should at least be able to take a few bites. Thankfully, Mongolia has other answers.

The Nemegt formation is full of animals that would be at home in Arkham Asylum 70 million years ago. You have Therizinosaurus, which looks like a cross between the Penguin and Victor Zsasz. Then you have Deinocheirus who, like Bane, was serving nothing but hands for decades. Then you have Nemegtosaurus and Opisthocoelicaudia. Both are long-necked sauropods, however Nemegtosaurus is known only from a single skull, while Opisthocoelicaudia is known only from post-cranial elements of the skeleton. Whether they were the same animal is a riddle we won’t know the answer to until the World’s Greatest Detective stops assaulting Superman.

Speaking of which, the Nemegt formation had a BatTyrantMan of its own, Tarbosaurus bataar, which was the sister taxa to T. rex. Unlike the environment of T. rex however, the Nemegt formation actually supported a Robin to Tarbosaurus’ Batman: Alioramus. At an estimated 20 feet in length, Alioramus was a more slenderly-built tyrannosaur, with a proportionately longer snout than its heaviler cousins.

The Clown Prince of Dinosaurs: which one is most like the Joker?
Artist’s depiction of Gigantoraptor (human for scale)

But to get the Joker, we’re going back about 25 million years from the Nemegt formation to reach another member of the oviraptorosaurs. Gigantoraptor erlianensis is the clear Joker of the Mesozoic. Described by Xu Xing et al in 2007, Gigantoraptor maintains a lot of the weirdness of its cousins, but earns the ”Giganto” at the beginning of its name. With an estimated length of 8 meters, Gigantoraptor may not have been able to defend itself against larger tyrannosaurs like T. rex and Tarbosaurus, but it likely could’ve chased off an Alioramus sized foe (or beaten it to death with a baseball bat).

AIPT Science is co-presented by AIPT and the New York City Skeptics.

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