Centrosaurus: The Pointed Dino of the Late Cretaceous

Centrosaurus was a fascinating dinosaur from the Late Cretaceous period that roamed the lands of what is now known as Alberta, Canada. In the time of dinosaurs, however, this region would have been known as Laramidia. This herbivorous creature, belonging to the Ceratopsia group, is a testament to the diverse and complex life forms that once dominated our planet.

Key Facts

Centrosaurus pronunciationcen-troh-saw-ruhs
Meaning of namePointed lizard
Type SpeciesCentrosaurus apertus
When it Lived83.5 to 72.1 MYA
PeriodLate Cretaceous
EpochLate/Upper Campanian to Campanian
Length16.0 to 23.0 ft
Height6.0 ft
Weight2.0 to 2.0 tons
MobilityMoved on four legs
First Discovery1901 by Lawrence Lambe
Location of first findAlberta, Canada
Described by1904 by Lawrence Lambe in 1904
HolotypeAMNH 3999

Centrosaurus Origins, Taxonomy and Timeline

Let’s take a step back in time, to a period when these magnificent creatures roamed the Earth. The name Centrosaurus, meaning “pointed lizard,” is derived from the Greek words ‘kentron,’ which means “point or prickle,” and ‘sauros,’ meaning “lizard.” This name is a nod to the series of small hornlets that adorned the margin of their frills—a distinguishing feature of this dinosaur.

Centrosaurus belongs to the Ceratopsia group, which is a family of herbivorous dinosaurs known for their distinctive horns and frills. Within this group, it falls under the Ceratopsidae family. The type species of this genus is Centrosaurus apertus. The timeline of our dinosaur is set in the Late Cretaceous period, specifically the Late Campanian to Campanian epoch. 

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Discovery & Fossil Evidence

A mounted skeleton of a Centrosaurus displayed in the Munich Palaeontology Museum. The Centrosaurus, a herbivorous dinosaur from the Late Cretaceous period, is arranged on a wall to showcase its bipedal structure and distinctive features, including a large nasal horn and elaborate frill.
ArticCynda, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

The first remains were discovered by Canadian paleontologist Lawrence Lambe along the Red Deer River in Alberta. This marked the beginning of our understanding of this unique dinosaur. Later, vast bonebeds were found in Dinosaur Provincial Park, also in Alberta. These beds extend for hundreds of meters and contain thousands of individuals of all ages and all levels of completion. The high density and number of individuals suggest that these dinosaurs may have perished while trying to cross a flooded river.

In addition to these finds, thousands of Centrosaurus fossils were discovered near the town of Hilda, Alberta, in what is believed to be the largest bed of dinosaur bones ever discovered. This area is now known as the Hilda mega-bonebed. These discoveries have provided invaluable insights into the life and times of this dinosaur.

Centrosaurus Size and Description

Despite its robust build, this was not among the largest of dinosaurs. Its body was supported by sturdy limbs and reached lengths of 16 to 23 feet and weighed between 2 to 2.8 tons. This dinosaur was characterized by a single large horn over its nose, which curved forwards or backwards depending on the specimen. As the animal aged, the skull ornamentation reduced.

Short description of Centrosaurus

Centrosaurus was a four-legged dinosaur with a body shape typical of ceratopsians. It had a large, bony frill that was adorned with a series of small hornlets along its edge. Furthermore, its head was large with a single prominent horn over its nose and a beak-like mouth that was well-suited for its herbivorous diet. The dinosaur’s neck was short and muscular to support the weight of its massive head. Its vertebrae, like those of other ceratopsians, were sturdy and robust. The limbs were stout and strong and designed to support its heavy body. Its tail was relatively short in order to provide balance as it moved on all fours.

Size and Weight of Type Species

It was a medium-sized dinosaur with an estimated length of about 20 feet and a weight of approximately 2 tons. However, these figures are based on the fossils that have been discovered so far and there may be some variation. Some sources suggest that it could have reached lengths of up to 23 feet and weighed as much as 2.8 tons. Despite these differences in estimates, it’s clear that this herbivore was a tough creature in its time.

The Dinosaur in Detail

It was a truly remarkable creature, not just for its size but also for its unique features that set it apart from other dinosaurs. Its most distinctive feature was undoubtedly its large frill that was adorned with a series of small hornlets. This frill wasn’t just for show—it likely played a crucial role in the dinosaur’s survival and possibly served as a form of protection against predators or as a display to attract mates.

Another fascinating aspect of this dinosaur’s traits is its single large horn, which curved forwards or backwards depending on the specimen. This horn and its beak-like mouth would have made Centrosaurus a distinct presence in its environment. It’s also worth noting that as the dinosaur aged, the skull ornamentation reduced, which suggests that these features played a role in the animal’s maturity and possibly its social status.

The vast bonebeds found in Alberta, Canada provide further insights into this dinosaur’s life. The high density and number of individuals suggest that they may have lived in large herds, indeed a behavior that could have offered protection against predators. These bonebeds are a testament to the dinosaur’s adaptability and survival instincts, painting a vivid picture of life in the Late Cretaceous period.

The Centrosaurus in its Natural Habitat

It lived during the Late Cretaceous period during a time when the Earth was a very different place than it is today. The climate was warmer, and the geography was vastly different, with much of what is now North America underwater. Laramidia—the region where Centrosaurus lived—is now Alberta, Canada and was likely a lush, forested environment that was rich in vegetation.

Artistic depiction of a herd of Centrosaurus gathered by a water source. These herbivorous dinosaurs, characterized by their prominent nasal horns and frilled necks, are shown in a social group, which suggests possible herd behavior.
ABelov2014, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

As an herbivore, it would have fed on the abundant plant life in its environment. Its beak-like mouth was well-suited for grazing on the diverse vegetation that thrived in its habitat. It’s likely that Centrosaurus was a selective feeder that chose the most nutritious plants to sustain its large body.

It moved on all four legs, a trait that would have given it stability and strength. This mode of locomotion was combined with its sturdy body and robust limbs. This is furthermore suggesting that this dinosaur was well-adapted to its environment and capable of navigating the varied terrain of its habitat.

Its social behavior is a topic of ongoing research but the discovery of vast bonebeds suggests that these dinosaurs may have lived in large herds. This herd behavior could have offered protection against predators and also facilitated access to food sources. The presence of Centrosaurus in such large numbers would have undoubtedly shaped the landscape and ecosystem around it, leaving a lasting impact on its environment.

Interesting Points about Centrosaurus

  1. This dinosaur had one of the largest known bonebeds, suggesting it may have moved in large herds.
  2. It’s large frill and single horn are the most distinctive features that set it apart from other ceratopsians.
  3. As it aged, the skull ornamentation reduced. This indicates these features may have played a role in the dinosaur’s maturity and social status.
  4. The high number of individuals in the bonebeds suggest these dinosaurs may have perished trying to cross a flooded river.
  5. It had a horn that curved either backwards or forwards depending on the individual.

Contemporary Dinosaurs

This creature of notable distinction found itself in the company of a diverse array of contemporary Laramidian dinosaurs. Among them were the Styracosaurus, Chasmosaurus, Daspletosaurus, and Parasaurolophus. Each of these dinosaurs was unique in their own right and contributed to the intricate dynamics of their shared environment.

The Styracosaurus, with its impressive array of horns, and the Chasmosaurus, known for its large frill, were both ceratopsians like the Centrosaurus. They likely moved in herds across the landscape, grazing on the lush vegetation. Their coexistence with the Centrosaurus might have involved competition for the same plant resources in a contest of who could reach the most succulent leaves. Despite their potential rivalry, these herbivores also shared a common threat—the Daspletosaurus. This formidable predator, with its powerful jaws, was a constant reminder of the perilous balance of life in this prehistoric world.

The Parasaurolophus, another herbivorous dinosaur, stands out with its distinctive crest. Its larger size might have allowed it to reach vegetation inaccessible to others. This could have reduced direct competition between them, allowing a peaceful coexistence. The presence of these diverse dinosaurs paints a vivid picture of a vibrant ecosystem with the Centrosaurus at its heart.

List of All Dinosaurs

We have created a list of all dinosaurs we have covered here, sorted across the seven main groups of dinosaurs. We also include information about their type of diet, (omnivore, herbivore or carnivore) and the time they lived.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does the name Centrosaurus mean?

The name means “pointed lizard,” derived from the Greek words ‘kentron,’ meaning “point or prickle,” and ‘sauros,’ meaning “lizard.”

When did it live?

This dinosaur lived during the Late Cretaceous period. Specifically the Late Campanian to Campanian epoch, around 83.5 to 72.1 million years ago.

What did it eat?

As an herbivore, it fed on the abundant plant life in its environment. Its beak-like mouth was well-suited for grazing on vegetation.

Where were the first fossils found?

They were discovered in Alberta, Canada, by Canadian paleontologist Lawrence Lambe.

What are some unique features of this dinosaur?

Known for its large frill, adorned with a series of small hornlets and a single large horn over its nose. These features, along with its robust body and four-legged locomotion, make Centrosaurus a unique dinosaur.


Article last fact-checked: Joey Arboleda, 06-11-2023

Featured Image Credit: Nobu Tamura, CC BY 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons