Balaur: The Stocky Dragon from the Late Cretaceous Period

The Balaur, whose name translates to “Stocky Dragon,” hails from the Late Cretaceous period—a time teeming with diverse life forms. This carnivore was one of these life forms that lived as a predator and spent its time hunting prey through the ancient forests and plains of Europe. As we journey back in time, we’ll uncover the Balaur’s origins, explore the unique trait it has that is not found in any other dinosaur, and even discuss its place in the ecosystem of its time.

Key Facts

Balaur pronunciationBal-au-r
Meaning of nameStocky Dragon
Etymology of nameBalaur, a dragon of Romanian folklore
Type SpeciesBalaur bondoc
When it Lived70.6 to 66.0 MYA
PeriodLate Cretaceous
EpochEarly/Lower Maastrichtian
Length5.9 to 8.2 ft
Height2.5 ft
MobilityMoved on two legs
First Discovery1997 by Dan Grigorescu
Location of first findHunedoara, Romania
First Described by2010 by Zoltán Csiki, Mátyás Vremir, Stephen L. Brusatte and Mark A. Norell
HolotypeFGGUB R. 1580–1585

Balaur Origins: Taxonomy, Timeline, and Discovery

Illustration of Balaur bondoc, a small feathered theropod dinosaur from the Late Cretaceous period. The image showcases Balaur bondoc with its unique double sickle-shaped claws on each foot, indicating its predatory nature.
Ferahgo the Assassin, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The name “Balaur” is as intriguing as the dinosaur itself. Derived from the Albanian terms “boljë/bollë” meaning “snake” and “bulgar” meaning “water snake,” it’s believed to stem from the Thracian root for “beast, monster.” This gives us the translation “Stocky Dragon,” a fitting name for this unique creature.

Belonging to the theropod group, Balaur is part of the Dromaeosauridae family. Its type species is Balaur bondoc, a fascinating creature that we’ll delve into more as we progress. Interestingly, there are no known subspecies or sister taxa, making it a unique entity in the dinosaur world.

It lived during the Late Cretaceous period, specifically the Early or Lower Maastrichtian epoch. This places its existence in a time when dinosaurs were the dominant terrestrial vertebrates.

Dan Grigorescu made the initial discovery of Balaur fossils in 1997 in Hunedoara, Romania. However, it wasn’t until 2010 that Romanian paleontologists Zoltán Csiki, Mátyás Vremir, Stephen L. Brusatte, and Mark A. Norell first described the dinosaur. This significant delay between discovery and description is not uncommon in paleontology, as the process of identifying and classifying a new dinosaur can be quite complex.

Fossil Evidence

Dan Grigorescu discovered the initial Balaur fossils in Hunedoara, Romania, in 1997. This finding was a significant moment in paleontology, as it marked the discovery of a new and unique dinosaur species. The fossils were well preserved and provided valuable insights into its physical characteristics and lifestyle.

Fossil remains of B. bondoc, a small theropod dinosaur from the Late Cretaceous period, displayed in a museum exhibit. The fossil showcases the unique double sickle-shaped claws on each foot, providing insight into the dinosaur's predatory nature.
Ghedoghedo, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Since the initial discovery, additional fossils have been found in Romania. These later finds have further enriched our understanding of this fascinating dinosaur. The number of finds is limited, but each one adds a piece to the puzzle of the dinosaur’s existence during the Cretaceous period.

The types of fossils found include bones and teeth, which have provided valuable insights into the Balaur’s diet and behavior. The degree of preservation of these fossils has been remarkable, allowing scientists to study this dinosaur in great detail.

Balaur Size and Description

Let’s now turn our attention to the physical characteristics of this dinosaur. Like many of its theropod relatives, it was a bipedal creature that moved about on two legs. Its physical features, from its head to its tail, tell a fascinating story about its lifestyle and survival strategies.

Short description of Balaur

This was a carnivorous dinosaur, a fact that is evident in its physical characteristics. Its strong, muscular body was built for hunting. It would have used sharp teeth, dangerous claws, and its strong limbs to help it capture and dominate its prey. The combined fossil evidence paints a picture of a powerful predator that is uniquely set apart from its other therapod relatives.

Size and Weight of Type Species

Scale comparison of a human and Balaur, a small theropod dinosaur from the Late Cretaceous period. The image illustrates Balaur's size at approximately 2 meters in length, showing its relatively small stature compared to an average human.
Emily Willoughby, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The exact size and weight of the Balaur are not known, as complete skeletons have not been found. However, based on the fossils that have been discovered, scientists have been able to make some educated guesses. This was likely a medium-sized dinosaur, with a height and length that would have made it a formidable presence in its environment. As for its weight, it is believed to have weighed around 40 lbs—consistent with its robust build and carnivorous diet.

The Dinosaur in Detail

This is a dinosaur that stands out for its unique features. One of the most notable characteristics of this dinosaur is its double sickle-shaped claws on each foot. This feature, which is not seen in any other known dinosaur, suggests that it was a highly specialized predator. These claws would have been used for hunting and possibly for defense against other predators.

The head was likely equipped with sharp teeth that were perfect for tearing into prey. Its neck was long and flexible to allow it to reach out for food or defend itself. The vertebrae were robust, supporting the dinosaur’s large body and active lifestyle. The limbs of the Balaur were strong and agile, built for speed and precision. Its tail was likely long and flexible to provide balance as the dinosaur moved. As for its skin, while no direct evidence exists, it’s plausible that it had a covering of feathers, similar to other Dromaeosaurids.

All of these features combine into a robust build. Unlike many other theropods, which were built for speed, this dinosaur was built for strength. Its strong limbs and powerful muscles suggest that it was a terrifying predator capable of taking down even large prey. These unique features reflect its adaptability and survival instincts.

The Balaur in its Natural Habitat and Environment

This dinosaur lived in what is now Romania during the Late Cretaceous period. This was a time of significant geological and climatic change. The environment would have been diverse with a mix of forests, plains, and water bodies. The climate was likely warm and humid, providing a lush habitat for a variety of plant and animal life.

As a large carnivore, it would have been among the top predators in its environment. Its diet likely consisted of smaller dinosaurs and possibly other small animals. The strong limbs and double sickle-shaped claws would have made it an efficient hunter, capable of catching and killing its prey with ease.

As a predator, this dinosaur’s senses would have played a crucial role in its survival. Its keen eyesight would have helped it spot potential prey from a distance, while its acute hearing would have alerted it to the presence of other predators or threats. Its sense of smell, too, would have been essential for tracking prey and detecting danger.

As a top predator, it would have played a crucial role in maintaining the balance of the ecosystem. Controlling the population of smaller dinosaurs and other animals would have helped ensure the health and diversity of their habitat.

Interesting Points about Balaur

  1. Balaur is the only known dinosaur to have double sickle-shaped claws on each foot.
  2. Despite being a theropod, it was built for strength rather than speed, making it unique among its relatives.
  3. The name “Balaur” translates to “Stocky Dragon,” a fitting name for this robust dinosaur.
  4. Its fossils have only been found in Romania, suggesting that this dinosaur had a very specific geographic range.
  5. It lived during the Late Cretaceous period, a time when dinosaurs were the dominant terrestrial vertebrates.

Contemporary Dinosaurs

In the ancient world where the Balaur held dominion, it was not alone. Among its contemporaries were the Zalmoxes, Struthiosaurus, Telmatosaurus, and Magyarosaurus. Each of these European dinosaurs, unique in its own right, contributed to the intricate symphony of life that played out in this prehistoric era.

The Zalmoxes, smaller in stature compared to the Balaur, was an herbivore. Its existence in the same environment suggests a push and pull. The Balaur might have seen the Zalmoxes as potential prey and yet they would not have been an easy target due to their agility and speed. This dynamic likely added a layer of complexity to the Balaur’s hunting strategies, pushing them to evolve and adapt.

The Struthiosaurus was also considerably smaller than the Balaur. It had a robust body and armored skin and presents an interesting contrast to our main dinosaur. The Balaur, with its sharp claws and teeth, might have seen the Struthiosaurus as a challenge—defining the survival-of-the-fittest quality to this ancient world.

On the other hand, the Telmatosaurus and Magyarosaurus were both herbivores that were larger than the Balaur. These dinosaurs might have been intimidating because of their massive size yet their herbivorous nature meant they were not direct threats. However, their presence would have influenced the Balaur’s behavior, possibly leading to fascinating interactions.

In this prehistoric world, the Balaur coexisted with the Zalmoxes, Struthiosaurus, and Telmatosaurus, as well as the Magyarosaurus. Each playing their part in the intricate dance of life and survival. Their interactions—a complex web of competition and coexistence—paint a vivid picture of life in this bygone era.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does the name “Balaur” mean?

The name translates to “Stocky Dragon.”

When did it live?

It lived during the Late Cretaceous period, specifically the Early/Lower Maastrichtian epoch, between 70.6 and 66.0 million years ago.

What did it eat?

As a carnivore, it likely fed on smaller dinosaurs and possibly other small animals.

What makes it unique among dinosaurs?

The double sickle-shaped claws on each foot are among its most unique features. A characteristic not seen in any other known dinosaur.

Who discovered it?

Dan Grigorescu discovered the first fossils in 1997. However, it was first described by Romanian paleontologists Zoltán Csiki, Mátyás Vremir, Stephen L. Brusatte, and Mark A. Norell in 2010.


Article last fact checked: Joey Arboleda, 06-08-2023

Featured Image Credit: Nobu Tamura, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons