A database of all dinosaur specimens in the world

June 8, 2017

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a database of all dinosaur specimens?

Well, there is — or at least, it’s on its way. Gunnar Bivens, who we know from SV-POW! comments as bricksmashtv, in creaing a vast Google-Docs Spreadsheet which at the time of writing has the following entries in various tabs:

  • 1446 sauropods (Yay!)
  • 50 theropods
  • 2 thyreophorans (Hey, you gotta start somewhere.)
  • 3 ornithopods
  • 25 marginocephalians

Other tabs yet to be populated: basal dinosaurs, basal sauropodomorphs, basal ornithoscelidans, basal ornithischians.

(I think it’s a mistake to leap at the Baron et al. 2017 Ornithoscelida hypothesis, abandoning so precipitately the well-established Saurischia/Ornithischia division, but that’s how things stand.)

You can help

The spreadsheet is set up so that anyone can leave comments. Gunnar has done lots of work to get it going, essentially just by reading a ton of papers and entering all the details of dinosaur specimens — but no one person can possibly cover the whole literature.

Here’s what I think is the most efficient way to contribute: if you set up a Google Docs spreadsheet of your own, with the columns in the same order as Gunnar’s, then you can enter a bunch of specimens. When you’re ready, leave a comment on the relevant tab of the master spreadsheet pointing to your additions, and Gunnar can copy-paste them in.

Here is the link to the spreadsheet again. Get building!


  • Baron, Matthew G., David B. Norman and Paul M. Barrett. 2017. A new hypothesis of dinosaur relationships and early dinosaur evolution. Nature 543:501–506. doi:10.1038/nature21700

21 Responses to “A database of all dinosaur specimens in the world”

  1. protohedgehog Says:

    This looks kinda useful. But how is it different to the Paleobiology Database? I imagine there would be a much easier way to use their API and enormous amount of existing data, and then supplement that with additional specimen-level data..?

  2. Sounds like a job for some text mining scripts…?

    Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a regex-able code for museum specimens like there is for DNA sequence data a la GenBank

  3. @rmounce,

    Yes I agree this would certainly be a lot easier if I could do that. I guess the fun part is doing it yourself though xD.


    If I’m being completely honest I’ve never found PaleoBioDB to be superbly useful. I’ve always found it easier to trawl through the papers or visit Tracy Ford’s Paleofile to get that data. Probably why I never even thought about it when I started this.

  4. Oh & of course I’m beyond happy that I made SVPOW! news! Many thanks to Mike for putting this up & getting this exposure for me!

    (Oh, & now we’re at 1577 sauropods ;) ).

  5. ResearchBuzz Says:

    This is marvelous! Link in Sunday’s ResearchBuzz. Gunnar, thanks for all the hard work!

  6. Anonymous Says:

    @gunnar bivens and protohedgehog

    I’m glad I’m not the only one to feel this way about the Paleobiology Database. Whenever I use Paleobiology Database, I always find lots of incorrect taxonomy (up to and including invalid families) and incorrect faunal lists for localities even if more up to date info is available and has been available for decades (and said data sources seem rarely cited). The faunal lists for the localities that the specimens I work on come from are hilariously out of date and has numerous invalid listings (I don’t think some localities are even under the right name). This doesn’t seem to be restricted to the subarea I focus on because I see it even when I do random searches on other groups for other information. I don’t seem to be the only person that has this problem, as I know that at least a few other people have talked about the same problems (invalid taxonomy, outdated faunal lists) to the point there have been presentation abstracts on it.

    I know that the PBDB has a lot of people working hard on it, but there seems to be at least a few areas where things aren’t up to date enough to get accurate results on the current state of knowledge, which could reflect the amount of editors with interest in a particular group.

    When I need occurence data, I always just get it from the literature.

  7. Mike Taylor Says:

    Anonymous, are you able to provide more up-to-date information to the Palaeobiology Database?

  8. John Smith Says:

    I suppose it’s worth pointing out that Mickey Mortimer’s theropoddatabase.com has listings of specimens for a majority of entries and always has!

  9. @John,

    Yes of course the Theropod Database is an excellent source of information so far, & I plan to fully use it later on when I focus on theropods. Right now though it’s not superbly useful for sauropods (makes sense, Mickey is not a sauropod person).

  10. @ResearchBuzz

    Wow thank you very much! I never imagined the kind of exposure I’m getting for this already. I guess that tends to happen when you make the front page of a leading science blog…

  11. @Gunnar Bivens: Thank you so much for doing this. Hopefully word will get around about the project,t and the database will be significantly expanded.

    I’ve been dreaming of doing a similar thing with all extinct and extant mammals (and perhaps protomammals as well). But it’s just a pipe dream at the moment, partly because mammal taxonomy is in a state of chaos, with disagreement regarding phylogenetic species concepts (thanks, Colin Groves) and the disturbing lack of communication between paleo-mammalogists and actuo-mammologists.

  12. […] in the headline I’ll break Twitter; it’s the Sauropod Vertebra Picture of the Week): A database of all dinosaur specimens in the world. “Wouldn’t it be great if there was a database of all dinosaur specimens? Well, there is […]

  13. @Jason,

    thank you! I appreciate your kind words.

    I imagine that would be even crazier for memels than for dinosaurs.

  14. Anonymous Says:


    No, I don’t have access to the PBDB, so I just have to live with the faulty taxonomy and locality data. It gets kind of worrisome when I see faunal comparison studies done off the database using lists that are incorrect. In some cases, I know that certain localities may be coming up as more similar based on the shared presence of taxa which are not even recorded at both localities due to outdated info.

  15. Anonymous Says:

    Also, “basal ornithoscelidans”? Is there even such a thing? I’m looking at the cladogram of Baron et al. and they don’t seem to conclusively recover any taxa basal to the node of Theropoda + Ornithischia but more closely related to those groups than to sauropodomorphs and herrerasaurs. Though it’s possible some of the wildcard taxa might fall in there.

  16. Mike Taylor Says:

    Anonymous, when you say “I don’t have access to the PBDB”, do you mean that you have not registered for an account?

  17. David Marjanović Says:

    Concerning Ornithoscelida, we’re working on the dataset of Baron et al.; stay tuned.

  18. yes David, I’m aware of this. I’ve seen y’all on Mickey’s blog. I’m excited to see your results!

  19. Anonymous Says:


    I’m confused to what you mean by register. I thought you had to be sponsored by a known member or approved by the heads of the group in order to be able to edit the database.

  20. Mike Taylor Says:

    Ah, I wondered if that was still true. IIRC, at one point, you had to have a Ph.D to be a PaleoBioDB contributor. I understand why the creators would have thought that was a good, safe condition to require, but it does rule out an enormous amount of enthusiastic volunteer labour.

    In the past, I have struggled to get data out of the PaleoBioDB, but either I missed the relevant facilities back then or there are better facilities now: I messed around a bit with https://paleobiodb.org/classic/displayDownloadGenerator to good effect.

  21. Mike Taylor Says:

    I do still find PaleoBioDb accounts confusing. I registered all right, but that doesn’t give me the right to add or edit data. There is a button on the account page that lets me request “Authorizer” status. But that’s not about entering data myself, it’s about taking responsibility for letting someone else do so under my authorization, which seems like it’s taking several steps at once. The explanation at https://paleobiodb.org/#/faq doesn’t really help.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: