The Smithsonian Wonders: What Kind of Dinosaur is Godzilla?

Hey Don't Laugh This Is Science!


Godzilla certainly puts the “fiction” in sci-fi. When you’re dealing with an amphibious dinosaur the size of a mountain that is effectively a biological nuclear reactor, it’s advisable to leave the monster as a symbol of wanton atomic destruction and not worry too much about scientific accuracy. But with the upcoming American reboot of the long-running franchise, I couldn’t help but wonder about the one aspect of Godzilla where paleontology might have something to contribute–just what sort of dinosaur Godzilla is.

Everyone knows that Godzilla is a mutated something-o-saurus. Just what sort of creature the aberration started out as varies from one canonical storyline to another. During the 1990s run of the Godzilla series, for example, the movie Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah showed that Godzilla mutated from a late-surviving theropod dinosaur. The carnivore looked like the old, dumpy restorations of Tyrannosaurus from the mid-20th century, and, no surprise, the fictional dinosaur is known as Godzillasaurus. (Not to be confused with the real dinosaur given the name “Gojirasaurus,” which is probably a synonym of Coelophysis.)

But in a light-hearted article published in 1998, paleontologist Ken Carpenter tried to divine what sort of dinosaur Godzilla is, based upon the kaiju’s anatomy. This was no simple task. Godzilla has traits that evolved multiple times among different groups of large carnivorous theropods, creating a strange dinosaurian mosaic. Not to mention all those radiation-spurred mutations.

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Of course this whole thing was explained by Dr. Arnold Johnson in the movie King Kong vs Godzilla. Big G is a cross between the mighty Tyrannosaurus and the Stegosaurus, also known as the plated dinosaur. Fossils found in Japan resemble Godzilla so he would naturally head straight there to fight Kong, a giant gorilla from a remote island who is an instinctive rival. The Big Book of Dinosaurs says so.

"Horrors in the world of science are part of natures plan."

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