Cetiosaurus: Whale Lizard from the Middle Jurassic Era

In the vast expanse of prehistoric life, this dinosaur stands out for its unique characteristics and intriguing history—the Cetiosaurus. This name translates to ‘whale lizard’, whose large size dazzled paleontologists. This herbivore roamed the Earth during the Middle Jurassic period

It left behind a legacy that continues to captivate us today. As we delve into the world of the Cetiosaurus, we’ll uncover its origins, key facts, and the environment in which it thrived in order to paint a vivid picture of this fascinating creature and its place in the grand tapestry of life on Earth.

Cetiosaurus Key Facts

Cetiosaurus pronunciationSee-tee-oh-saw-ruhs
Meaning of nameWhale lizard
Type SpeciesCetiosaurus oxoniensis
When it Lived171.6 to 125.5 MYA
PeriodMiddle Jurassic
EpochLate/Upper Bajocian to  Late/Upper Barremian
Length59.0 ft
Height9.8 ft
Weight10.0 to 15.0 tons
MobilityMoved on four legs
First Discovery1825 by John Kingdon
Location of first findEngland, UK
First Described by1841 by Richard Owen
HolotypeOUMNH J13617

Cetiosaurus Origins, Taxonomy and Timeline

Explore the Cetiosaurus, a fascinating dinosaur from the Middle Jurassic era. Discover its origins, key facts, and the environment it thrived in.

The Cetiosaurus, or ‘whale lizard’, is a fascinating creature with a name that reflects its massive size. The name is derived from the Greek words ‘keteios’, meaning ‘sea monster’ or ‘whale’, and ‘sauros’, meaning ‘lizard’. This name was bestowed upon it due to its enormous size, which is reminiscent of the colossal whales that roam our oceans today.

In terms of taxonomy, the Cetiosaurus belongs to the Sauropoda group, specifically the Cetiosauridae family. Its type species is Cetiosaurus oxoniensis. There are also several subspecies, including Cetiosaurus brevis, Cetiosaurus mogrebiensis, and Cetiosaurus philippsii. The timeline of this dinosaur is situated in the Middle Jurassic period, specifically from the Late Bajocian to Late Barremian epochs. 

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Discovery & Fossil Evidence

The first discovery of these fossils dates back to 1825, when John Kingdon stumbled upon them in England. These fossils were later described by the English paleontologist Richard Owen in 1841, marking the official recognition of this new dinosaur in the scientific community.

Since that initial discovery, numerous other fossils have been found, providing us with a wealth of information about this dinosaur. These fossils include a variety of bones and skeletal fragments, which have helped paleontologists piece together a comprehensive picture of its physical characteristics and habits.

Cetiosaurus oxoniensis, "Rutland Dinosaur". New Walk Museum, Leicester. Tuesday, 17 July, 2012
Paul Stainthorp from United Kingdom, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

One of the most notable specimens is the Cetiosaurus oxoniensis—a subspecies that has been particularly well-studied. The fossils of this subspecies have provided invaluable insights into the size, shape, and structure of this dinosaur, contributing significantly to our understanding of its lifestyle and characteristics.

Cetiosaurus Size and Description

This is a dinosaur that captures the imagination with its impressive size and distinctive features. It has many characteristics that are typical for the sauropods, such as a long neck and tail, quadrupedal locomotion, and its large size. 

Short description of Cetiosaurus

This was a large dinosaur with a body shape typical of sauropods. Its long, slender neck allowed it to reach vegetation at various heights while its robust body and tail provided balance and support. The vertebrae of this dinosaur were uniquely designed to support its massive size and included large, hollow spaces that reduced the weight of the bones without compromising their strength.

The limbs of the Cetiosaurus were column-like in order to provide the necessary support for its large body. Its tail, like that of many sauropods, was long and likely served as a counterbalance to its neck. While the skin is not well-known, it is generally believed to have been similar to that of other sauropods and possibly featured small, bumpy scales.

Size and Weight of Type Species

Cetiosaurus Size
Slate Weasel, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Cetiosaurus oxoniensis, the type species of this genus, was a particularly large dinosaur. While precise measurements are difficult to determine due to the incomplete nature of the fossil record, it is estimated that this dinosaur could reach lengths of up to 59 feet. This makes it one of the smaller sauropods but still a large creature by any standard.

The weight is also difficult to determine with certainty. However, based on comparisons with other sauropods of similar size it is estimated that it could have weighed in the region of 10 to 15 tons. This places it among the heavier dinosaurs, a testament to the remarkable size and strength of these prehistoric creatures.

The Dinosaur in Detail

This is a dinosaur that stands out not just for its size, but also for its unique features. One of the most distinctive aspects of this dinosaur is its vertebrae. Unlike most later sauropods, the Cetiosaurus had solid vertebrae, akin to modern day whales. 

Another notable feature is its long, slender neck. This feature allowed the dinosaur to reach vegetation at various heights, and provided it with a diverse diet and a competitive advantage in its environment. The neck of this dinosaur is a testament to its adaptability and survival instincts and demonstrates its ability to thrive in a variety of conditions.

It also stands out for its robust body and tail. These features provided balance and support, enabling the dinosaur to move efficiently despite its large size. The tail, in particular, likely served as a counterbalance to its long neck, further enhancing its mobility and stability. These features highlight the remarkable design of its skeleton, showcasing its strength and resilience in the face of the challenges of its environment.

The Cetiosaurus in its Natural Habitat

Cetiosaurus Dinosaur
Nobu Tamura, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It lived in a time when the Earth was a very different place. The climate was warmer, the geography was vastly different, and the vegetation was lush and diverse. Found mostly in Europe and northern Africa, this dinosaur was a herbivore that on the abundant plant life of its time. Its long neck would have allowed it to reach vegetation at various heights, providing it with a diverse diet.

Like most sauropods, it moved on four legs. This mode of locomotion, coupled with its size, would have made it a lumbering presence in its environment. It was likely a slow-moving creature since its pace would be dictated by the need to support its massive weight. 

It lived in a time when the Earth was a very different place. The climate was warmer, the geography was vastly different, and the vegetation was lush and diverse. This dinosaur was an herbivore, feeding on the available plant life of its time. Its long neck would have allowed it to reach vegetation at various heights and given it a diverse diet.

It was likely a solitary creature, although it’s possible that it may have lived in small groups. Its size would have made it a challenging presence in its environment and it may have had few natural predators.

Interesting Points about Cetiosaurus

  1. The name, meaning ‘whale lizard’, was given due to its massive size that is reminiscent of the colossal whales that roam our oceans today.
  2. It is one of the most primitive sauropods known, with solid vertebrae unlike the hollow vertebrae found in more advanced sauropods.
  3. Despite its size, it was a potential prey for large mid-Jurassic theropods such as Megalosaurus and Dubreuillosaurus.
  4. It had a wide distribution that covered most of Western Europe all the way down to North Africa.
  5. It is the type genus of the Cetiosauridae family and it’s thought to be related to Patagosaurus and Barapasaurus.

Contemporary Dinosaurs

It shared its world with a captivating ensemble of contemporaries. These fellow dinosaurs, whether African dinosaurs or European dinosaurs, were integral parts of this delicate balance of survival and competition.

The Megalosaurus, a creature of formidable size, roamed the same lands. This dinosaur was larger than the Cetiosaurus and could have been a potential predator—adding a layer of tension to their coexistence. Yet, with its impressive size and strength, the Cetiosaurus was far from an easy prey. This dynamic might have led to a fascinating interplay in a constant game of survival where strength and strategy were key.

The Iguanodon, on the other hand, was an herbivore like the Cetiosaurus. They likely grazed side by side, perhaps even competing for the same lush vegetation that flourished in their shared habitat. Their coexistence paints a picture of peaceful moments punctuated by the occasional competition for resources.

The Eustreptospondylus and Cryptosaurus were smaller than the Cetiosaurus and add further complexity to this prehistoric landscape. The Eustreptospondylus was a carnivore that might have viewed the Cetiosaurus as potential prey while the Cryptosaurus, an herbivore, would have been a fellow grazer that shared the verdant environment without posing a direct threat. This intricate web of relationships became a delicate balance of coexistence and competition that underscores the dynamic nature of the Cetiosaurus’s world.

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 mean?

The name Cetiosaurus translates to ‘whale lizard’, a nod to its massive size.

What group does it belong to?

It belongs to the Sauropoda group, specifically the Cetiosauridae family.

When did it exist?

It lived during the Middle Jurassic period, specifically from the Late Bajocian to Late Barremian epochs, which is between 171.6 and 125.45 million years ago.

What did it eat?

This dinosaur was an herbivore that fed on the abundant plant life of its time.

Where were its fossils first found?

The first fossils were found in England, UK, in 1825 by John Kingdon.

How did it move?

It moved on all four legs, a trait common among sauropods.


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

Featured Image Credit: Ghedo, CC BY-SA 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/, via Wikimedia Commons