Stegosaurus is one of the best known and most beloved dinosaurs. The large plates on its back and its lethal tail spikes make it easy to identify, although it has also been the subject of much debate. It was a relatively early dinosaur discovery, found in 1877 and identified shortly thereafter. Still, there remains much about this iconic dinosaur that scientists don’t completely understand.
There have been numerous Stegosaurus fossil discoveries, yet very few articulated skeletons (the bones lying next to each other as in life) have been found. Because of this, numerous questions remain about this mysterious animal: were the plates on its back arranged in two paired rows? Or were the plates arranged in alternating, or staggered rows? Were the plates used for defense, heat regulation, mating displays, some combination of these, or something else entirely? Could Stegosaurus stand on its hind legs to reach tall tree branches? These are just some of the questions still up for debate.
Fortunately, many museums display beautiful skeletal mounts of Stegosaurus, the majority of which are composites that are necessarily created from several individual dinosaurs. Most of the Stegosaurus fossils found belong to one of two species, Stegosaurus stenops (the most common) and Stegosaurus ungulatus. Distinctions between the species are difficult to make due largely to the lack of articulated skeletons, however. Here are some of the best places to see the mighty Stegosaurus:
Honorable Mention: Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, ON
In Toronto, the Stegosaurus display is good, although the dinosaur is somewhat cramped for space in the corner where it sits. Like many Stegosaurus displays, however, the mount is outdated with the tail pointing down. Mortal enemy Allosaurus is nearby, but the display in Toronto does not depict the fossils engaging with each other.
Honorable Mention: Royal Tyrrell Museum, Drumheller, AB
The tail-dragging Stegosaurus display in Drumheller is an interesting specimen. Although the outdated pose is a little disappointing, the fossil has a great collection of back plates of all sizes, from very small in front to very large above the hips. This is a high-quality fossil that would move up the list with a new, more dynamic mount.
Honorable Mention: Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, IL
I love the ground display that the Stegosaurus at the Field Museum walks on…it looks very much like a dinosaur trackway and it is beautifully sculpted, perfectly in tune with the dinosaur on display. The actual Stegosaurus skeleton is mounted in the most common pose, with the tail down although at least it’s not dragging on the ground! This is a nice fossil though, it clearly shows how small and round the back plates near the tail were compared to the larger and more triangular plates above the hips.
(12) Utah Field House of Natural History, Vernal, UT
The Stegosaurus on display at the Utah Field House of Natural History in Vernal is one of the more attractive displays of this ancient animal. The dinosaur is mounted in an updated pose, head and tail up, as it stands warily eyeing a nearby Allosaurus.
(11) New Mexico Museum of Natural History, Albuquerque, NM
In the Jurassic gallery at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History, the Stegosaurus is a particularly attractive dinosaur mount. Mounted with the head up and tail off the ground, this pose makes the Stegosaurus look larger and certainly much longer. This specimen also has some very attractive plates, arranged in staggered rows from neck to tail. Sometimes the plates on Stegosaurus seem very sparse considering the size of the animal, this one does not.
(10) University of Nebraska State Museum, Lincoln, NE
One of the older Stegosaurus mounts in North America, the display in Lincoln comes from the Dinosaur National Monument quarry in Utah. It is mounted in the now out-dated “tail-dragger” pose that is no longer our current understanding of how Stegosaurus lived. For many museums with fossil displays, the cost is very high to “fix” these mounts since the actual bones were typically drilled and held up with metal armature, and require extensive repairs and work to remount in a new position. To their credit, the UNSM has some signs next to the Stegosaurus on display indicating that the mount is no longer current, and explains how scientists now believe the creature walked with its tail up.
(9) Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Los Angeles, CA
As in several other museums, the Stegosaurus in Los Angeles is standing right next to its Jurassic enemy, Allosaurus. While the fossil is in a good pose, it is not nearly as dynamic as a similar scene in the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Still, this is a great mount of Stegosaurus. The back plates seem particularly large and the tail is up and in position to strike the Allosaurus if it moves in too closely.
(8) Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh, PA
The Stegosaurus at the Carnegie Museum came from the original Carnegie quarry that later became Dinosaur National Monument in Vernal, Utah. I think this is an interesting mount; it was remounted relatively recently for the “Dinosaurs in their Time” exhibit that the Carnegie Museum opened in 2008, yet unlike many recent remounts the metal armature remains largely visible so it is easy to see that much of the skeleton comes from actual fossil bone.
(7) Dinosaur Journey Museum of Western Colorado, Fruita, CO
The Stegosaurus at the Dinosaur Journey Museum is very beautiful, one of the most dynamic on display anywhere. The head is up, the tail is up, and the front legs are lifted slightly off the ground. Few displays of this animal are as interesting as this one, it appears that the Stegosaurus is ready to swing its tail at any moment.
(6) American Museum of Natural History, New York, NY
One of the oldest (1932) Stegosaurus displays can be found at AMNH in New York. Like most of the early mounts, this fossil represents a composite of several individual animals. Also like most of the early mounts, it too is in need of remounting. Nonetheless, this fossil is one of the most visible Stegosaurus skeletons in the world and has been been the model for many books and films that depict this interesting dinosaur.
(5) University of Wyoming Geological Museum, Laramie, WY
The Stegosaurus that is mounted in a display on the wall of the University of Wyoming Geological Museum is very important scientifically. Not only is it one of the more complete Stegosaurus fossils, but it depicts a relatively rare sub-adult individual. The fossil clearly shows how the famous plates on its back are not actually part of the skeleton, but instead are osteoderms, or bony protrusions that come out of the skin, somewhat like in modern crocodiles.
(4) Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Washington, DC
There are a couple different Stegosaurus displays at the National Museum of Natural History. The first is a typical mount of Stegosaurus, and was only the second Stegosaurus ever put on display (1918). It is an excellent mount, a composite skeleton like the other early displays. The second display at the Smithsonian is even more interesting, though. It is referred to by some as the “roadkill specimen” because it looks like the Stegosaurus was run over by a large truck. Nevertheless, this specimen is the holotype for the species and is displayed as it was found. This fossil is one of the most articulated (and most complete) specimens of Stegosaurus yet discovered, and demonstrated to scientists that the plates on its back were arranged in two staggered rows rather than paired rows, at least in the Stegosaurus stenops species.
(3) Houston Museum of Natural Science, Houston, TX
Of all the Stegosaurus displays, the one in Houston certainly stands out the most. Not only is the fossil large, it is shown standing on its rear legs, presumably reaching up to feed on high tree branches. While controversial, HMNS Curator of Paleontology Dr. Robert Bakker believes it is possible that Stegosaurus could stand in such a manner. Other paleontologists disagree, but the display is certainly forward-thinking and creative. It is also very impressive to see in person: the HMNS mount makes Stegosaurus seem much larger and longer than the typical mount seen in other museums. Future research will undoubtedly dictate whether this fossil remains in this pose, but for now it is the only Stegosaurus on display that is shown in a fully bipedal position.
(2) Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, CT
The name “Stegosaurus” was coined by O.C. Marsh, the legendary “bone war” dinosaur collector and nephew of the benefactor who helped create the Peabody Museum at Yale. Not surprisingly then, the first Stegosaurus fossil ever mounted for display was this Yale Peabody specimen, which was put on display in 1910. The fossil is a composite that has been displayed in several poses over the past hundred years or so. Right now the museum has been fundraising to modernize the building and many of the displays, with the Stegosaurus high on the list for a remount. Still, this display is quite good compared to many of the older Stegosaurus displays, and is not that far off from the most current science. Fans of Stegosaurus need to get to New Haven, as this is one of the most historically significant dinosaur displays in the world.
(1) Denver Museum of Nature and Science, Denver, CO
The first Stegosaurus was discovered near Denver in Morrison, CO and then promptly shipped to O.C. Marsh at Yale for scientific study in 1877. Later Stegosaurus was named the state fossil of Colorado, and the display in the Denver Museum of Nature and Science of this great dinosaur is terrific. The scene shows an adult Stegosaurus with tail spikes up and ready to launch as it protects two small juveniles from an Allosaurus attack. The juveniles are quite rare and are the only ones I have seen on display. It’s a beautiful exhibit worthy of this wonderful and iconic dinosaur.