Chialingosaurus: The Ancient Stegosaur from Late Jurassic China

Come with us as we discover the fascinating world of the Chialingosaurus, a unique dinosaur from the Late Jurassic period that roamed the lands of what is now China. This herbivorous stegosaurid has its own distinctive features and intriguing history that offer a captivating glimpse into the prehistoric past.

Imagine, if you will, stepping back in time to the Late Jurassic period—a time when dinosaurs ruled the Earth. As you traverse the lush, verdant landscapes of what is now China, you encounter a creature unlike any other—the Chialingosaurus. This dinosaur amazes its researchers with its unique defense system and formidable appearance.

Key facts

Chialingosaurus pronunciationCHEE-ah-LING-ah-SAWR-us
Meaning of nameChialing lizard
Type SpeciesChialingosaurus kuani
When it Lived182.7 to 66.0 MYA
PeriodLate Jurassic
EpochToarcian to Late/Upper Maastrichtian
Length13.0 to 19.4 ft
Height4.9 ft
Weight1.2 tons
MobilityMoved on all four
First Discovery1957 by Geologist Kuan Yaowu
Location of first findQuxian County, China
First Described by1959 by Chinese pale. Yang Zhongjian
HolotypeIVPP 2300

Chialingosaurus Origins, Taxonomy and Timeline

We will begin our journey with the name of our dinosaur, Chialingosaurus, which translates to “Chialing lizard”. The name is derived from the Chialing River in China, near where the first fossils were discovered. 

Chialingosaurus is a unique dinosaur from the Late Jurassic, roaming the lands of what is now China. Small, but had a spiky tail for defense.

In terms of taxonomy, it belongs to the Stegosauria group, specifically the Stegosauridae family. The type species is Chialingosaurus kuani, and there are up to three possible species of this genus that are still being sorted taxonomically.

This herbivorous dinosaur lived during the Late Jurassic period during a time of significant evolution and diversification among dinosaurs, and the Chialingosaurus was a part of this vibrant prehistoric world.

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Discovery & Fossil Evidence

The first fossils were discovered in 1957 by geologist Kuan Yaowu, also known as Guan Yao-Wu, in Quxian County, China. This discovery was a significant moment in paleontology as it marked the first time a stegosaurian was described from China.

Chialingosaurus fossils
Jonathan Chen, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The type species, Chialingosaurus kuani, was named and described two years later in 1959 by Chinese paleontologist Yang Zhongjian. The fossils found included a partial skeleton lacking the skull but containing six vertebrae, the coracoids, the humeri, a right radius, and three spines. In addition to the initial find, further material was added in November 1978 by Zhou Shiwu of the Municipal Museum of Chongqing after they found a second specimen. This specimen included a skeleton with a partial skull and lower jaws, some vertebrae and limb elements, and four plates. 

A third specimen, a partial skeleton lacking the skull, was also found and made the paratype. In the natural sciences, a paratype is a specimen that helps further support and describe the naming of a species alongside the holotype–the specimen on which the species is named and defined. All specimens are juvenile or subadult, providing a fascinating glimpse into the life and growth of young Chialingosaurus.

Chialingosaurus Size and Description

Our next step on our journey will be to take a moment to appreciate the overall form of the Chialingosaurus. This dinosaur, despite its relatively small size, was a remarkable creature with a unique set of features that set it apart from its contemporaries.

Short description of Chialingosaurus

This was an herbivorous stegosaurian dinosaur, similar in appearance to the Kentrosaurus. It had a slender build with a body shape that was likely adapted for foraging low-lying vegetation. The dinosaur moved on all four legs and its speed, while not specified, would have been typical of a creature of its size and build.

Size and Weight of Type Species

It was a relatively small dinosaur with estimates suggesting it might have been around 13.0 to 19.4 ft long. However, it’s important to note that these proportions may have been influenced by the subadult age of the specimens found. As for its weight, no specific estimates are available, but given its size it would likely have been a lightweight creature compared to some of the larger dinosaurs of its time.

The Dinosaur in Detail

The Chialingosaurus was a creature of remarkable complexity despite its small size. Its unique features, such as its slender build and the arrangement of spikes that ran down its tail, set it apart from other dinosaurs. These spikes would have served both as a means of display that allowed it to identify others of its own genus as well as a form of defense against predators.

One of its most intriguing aspects is its adaptability. As an herbivore, it would have been well-suited to the lush, plant-rich environment of the Late Jurassic period. Its diet likely consisted of ferns and cycads that were plentiful during the time it was alive.

Notable specimens include the initial find by Kuan Yaowu and the subsequent discoveries by Zhou Shiwu. These specimens have provided invaluable insights into the life of this fascinating dinosaur and contributed significantly to our understanding of its behavior, diet, and environment.

The Chialingosaurus in its Natural Habitat

ABelov2014, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This dinosaur lived in what is now Sichuan Province in China, a region that would have been a lush, verdant landscape teaming with a variety of plant life during the Late Jurassic period. It likely inhabited areas near rivers and lakes, where it could easily access its primary food sources—the sprouts of ferns and tree ferns.

As an herbivore, it would have played a crucial role in the ecosystem by helping to shape the landscape through controlling plant growth. Its diet would have consisted primarily of low-lying vegetation due to its body shape and size, which were likely adapted for foraging close to the ground.

Because of its smaller size, it would have had to navigate a world filled with potential predators. Its tail spikes would have served as a form of defense, although it’s uncertain how effective this would have been against larger predators. It’s possible that these spikes were more intended for defense against smaller predatory dinosaurs.

Interesting Points about Chialingosaurus

  1. This was one of the first stegosaur discoveries to take place in Asia, marking a significant moment in paleontology.
  2. It had an arrangement of spikes on its tail that served as a form of defense against predators.
  3. Its diet likely consisted of ferns and cycads, reflecting the lush, plant-rich environment of the Late Jurassic period.
  4. The name translates to “Chialing lizard”, named after the Chialing River near where the first fossils were discovered.
  5. All specimens found so far are juvenile or subadult, providing a fascinating glimpse into the life of these young dinosaurs.

Contemporary Dinosaurs

Our last step on this journey is analyzing the Chialingosaurus’s place among other dinosaurs. This Chinese dinosaur shared its world with a captivating ensemble of contemporaries. Among them were the Asian dinosaurs Szechuanosaurus, Omeisaurus, and Anchiornis, each playing their part in the complex symphony of survival and competition that defined their era.

The Szechuanosaurus, a predator of considerable size, might have posed a significant threat to the Chialingosaurus. This dynamic could have led to a tense relationship with the Chialingosaurus constantly on alert for the presence of this potential hunter. On the other hand, the Omeisaurus, a fellow herbivore, might have been a competitor for the same plant resources and yet also a companion in the shared quest for survival against common predators.

The Anchiornis was considerably smaller and presents a different dynamic. This feathered dinosaur, while not a direct competitor or threat, adds another layer to our dinosaur’s environment. Their coexistence paints a picture of a diverse and vibrant ecosystem. Each creature, from the smallest Anchiornis to the towering Omeisaurus, played a part in shaping the world of the Chialingosaurus.

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 translates to “Chialing lizard”, named after the Chialing River near where the first fossils were discovered.

When did it live?

This dinosaur lived in China during the Late Jurassic period.

What did this dinosaur eat?

As an herbivore, it likely fed on low-lying vegetation such as the sprouts of ferns and tree ferns.

How big was it?

This was a relatively small dinosaur, with estimates suggesting it might have been only four meters (thirteen feet) long.

Where were the fossils found?

They have been found in Quxian County, China, near the Chialing River.

Who discovered the Chialingosaurus?

The first fossils were discovered in 1957 by geologist Kuan Yaowu, also known as Guan Yao-Wu.


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

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