15 Pets You Can Own That Look Like Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals

Updated on April 16, 2018
Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa cares for a variety of exotic animals and has completed a certificate in veterinary assisting and a Bachelors Degree in Biology.

Dinosaurs are immensely popular with both children and adults alike. Nothing sparks the imagination like giant lizard-like creatures that once actually roamed our Earth. The enormous success of the Jurassic Park movies is a testament to the enthusiasm people have about dinosaurs and other creatures that are often confused as such. Surely at some point, young people have imagined what it would be like to have a dinosaur as a pet. Thanks to the exotic pet trade, you can actually own dinosaur look-alikes (as imagined) and in some cases, actual close relatives of dinosaurs.

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The Frilled Dragon

The frilled dragon is relatively easy to find in the reptile trade and may instantly remind someone of the dilophosaurus, a species made famous from the original Jurassic Park movie. The lizard's interesting frills are actually a defense mechanism and won't be displayed unless the animal is stressed, so encouraging the display is not recommended.

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The Armadillo

The most commonly owned armadillo species is the South American native three-banded armadillo, which is an animal that can fully close itself into a ball. The hairy armadillo and American native 9-banded armadillos are also sometimes kept. Armadillos are not animals for beginners to keeping exotic pets and require extensive housing and deep substrate to burrow in. These fascinating animals strongly resemble the ancient creatures known as aetosaurs. While some of the animal’s traits indicate it might have been herbivorous, some species had a keratinous snout and peg-like teeth, indicating they might have fed on colonial insects just like armadillos. Armadillos are not legal in many states, sometimes because of the fear that they may transmit leprosy. Being mammals, armadillos are more closely related to us than any member of the archosaur group.

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Dinosaur foot? No, emu.
Dinosaur foot? No, emu. | Source
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The Emu

Birds are dinosaurs' closet living relatives and some scientists actually classify birds as dinosaurs. Despite this, most birds don’t really resemble the stars of The Lost World and instead appear small and unintimidating. The cassowary is an exception; these blue birds have claws that make them the most dangerous bird in the world, capable of disemboweling an adult human. People don’t really keep these as pets, but ostrich and emu look very similar. Emus are large and may give us an idea of how some dinosaurs walked and behaved.

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The Rhino Iguana

All lizards look like dinosaurs to some degree, and iguanas are no exception. With their impressive size, claws, and spines, they were often used as actors for monsters in early movies. Rhino iguanas have a particularly prehistoric look with their dark skin and bumpy faces.

The alligator snapping turtle.
The alligator snapping turtle. | Source
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The Alligator Snapping Turtle

These reptiles have a reputation that is every bit as vicious as their appearance. Their dramatic shell is adorned with Ankylosaurus-like plates and they even have a beak like that species, which is used to tear their prey to pieces (although the ankylosaurus was herbivorous). Turtles are distantly related to dinosaurs, being related to the group called archosaurs that includes dinosaurs and crocodilians. Another prehistoric-looking turtle species that is sometimes kept as a pet is the mata mata turtle from South America, shown below.

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The Mata Mata Turtle

This strange looking aquatic turtle also has plates and rough features.

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The Monitor Lizard

As far as size goes, you can't go wrong with some species of monitor lizard. As some of the largest reptiles in the world besides crocodilians and giant pythons, they look like real-life dinosaurs despite their distant relation to birds (which are extant dinosaurs). These animals are carnivorous and active, with most of them requiring very demanding care. Some, like the croc monitor, present some danger to their owners. A better pet would be the small acanthurus or spiny-tailed monitor.

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The Bearded Dragon

This is a dinosaur-like reptile that's great for responsible children and those who are new to keeping reptiles. These tame lizards are easy to handle and are available in different color morphs.

Dinosaurs are not closely related to lizards or alligators because of their hip joint. Dinosaurs and birds stand up on their legs while lizards and alligators' legs splay out at the side.

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The Caiman

Modern-day crocodilians are not dinosaurs, but they are closely related to them. Together with modern birds and all of their ancestors, they form a group called the Archosaurs. Crocodilians are birds’ closest living relatives, although birds are more closely related to the extinct dinosaurs. In some states, you can own your very own crocodilian which include caiman, alligators, and in rare cases, crocodiles. They resemble the Phytosaurs of the late Triassic period. These animals have a striking resemblance to those ancient archosauriform reptiles; however they are not direct descendants. This is an example of convergent evolution, where unrelated species evolve a similar morphology and niche. Dwarf caimans are the smallest crocodilian one can own but they still require a lot of semi-aquatic space. They are small compared to crocodiles, but can still grow to 5 feet.

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The Hornbill

Hornbills and their close relatives the toucans are relatively large birds with sizable beaks, making them ironically resemble the group of flying reptiles called pterosaurs even though those are actually not dinosaurs and modern birds are. In captivity, African species are more common, including the Red Billed and Von der Decken hornbills. The flying ability of pterosaurs has no relation to birds, as it has evolved independently just like bat wings.

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The Jackson Chameleon

Chameleons are fascinating pets and the most popular species are not terribly demanding pets. The Jackson’s chameleon has three horns and a plate-like structure towards the back of its head, making it bear a loose resemblance to the popular dinosaur Triceratops. This is of course where the similarities end, as triceratops are massive plant eaters that were able to eat tough, fibrous plant material with their beak and dentition, while Jackson’s chameleons are tree-dwelling, strict insectivores, with 360-degree vision and a prehensile tail. Owning these unique animals is still just like having your own tiny dinosaur.

Sailfin Dragon Video

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The Sailfin Dragon

These impressive-looking lizards are not common in the pet trade nor are they simple to care for, but getting one just might be worth it based on their astounding dinosaur-like appearance. The males have a fan-like sail on their tail, making them resemble the iconic dimetrodon (which is actually more closely related to humans than dinosaurs) or the Spinosaurus, star of Jurassic Park 3. Sailfin dragons require large housing and can be expensive, but if you're looking for a 'pet dinosaur', look no further.

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The Green Basilisk

This species also possess a sail and is sometimes referred to as the Jesus Christ lizard because it can run so quickly it looks like it is 'walking' on water. Mature specimens have a well-developed crest that can make it resemble the parasaurolophus and lambeosaurus, in addition to the spinosaurus and dimetrodon.

A snake-head turtle.
A snake-head turtle. | Source

The Snake-Head Turtle

There are many prehistoric turtle-like creatures that resemble modern turtles but this unusual animal also has a long neck giving it a long-necked dinosaur appearance. The sauropods are a group of massive dinosaurs such as the Brachiosaurus that all have long necks just like the snake-head turtle. These turtles may also resemble the aquatic reptiles known as plesiosaurs that look like the Loch Ness monster and are often mistaken to be dinosaurs.

A crocodile skink.
A crocodile skink. | Source

The Crocodile Skink

These medium-sized lizards are rising in popularity for obvious reasons. Adorned with beautiful orange rings around their eyes, the crocodile skink resembles dragons or even plated dinosaurs like ankylosaurus and stegosaurus.

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The Caiman Lizard

If you can manage to keep a steady supply of snails and provide a large, semi-aquatic tank, the caiman lizard can make an impressive display animal. They resemble many quadruped non-avian dinosaurs, including Prestosuchus and Postosuchus.

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