Edmontosaurus: The Majestic Herbivore of the Late Cretaceous Period

Edmontosaurus is a dinosaur that holds a unique place in the annals of paleontology. This herbivorous giant, named after the city of Edmonton, Canada, roamed the earth during the Late Cretaceous period. This was a time of great diversity and change in the dinosaur world.

In this post, we’ll delve into the fascinating details of the Edmontosaurus, from its physical characteristics to its lifestyle and environment. We’ll also explore the significant discoveries that have shaped our understanding of this dinosaur, providing a captivating glimpse into a world long past.

Edmontosaurus Key Facts

Edmontosaurus pronunciationed-maan-tuh-saw-ruhs
Meaning of nameLizard from Edmonton
Type SpeciesEdmontosaurus regalis
When it Lived83.5 to 66.0 MYA
PeriodLate Cretaceous
EpochLate/Upper Campanian to Lancian
Length39.0 ft
Height10.0 ft
Weight4.0 tons
MobilityMoved on two legs, or all four
First Discovery1912 by Levi Sternberg
Location of first findAlberta, Canada
First Described by1917 by Lawrence Lambe
HolotypeUSNM 2414

Edmontosaurus Origins, Taxonomy and Timeline

Illustration of an Edmontosaurus, a large herbivorous dinosaur from the Late Cretaceous period. This hadrosaurid, or duck-billed dinosaur, is depicted with its characteristic flat snout and a row of small spikes along its back, emphasizing its role as a dominant herbivore in its ecosystem.

The Edmontosaurus, whose name translates to “lizard from Edmonton,” owes its moniker to the capital city of Alberta, Canada. The name is a combination of “Edmonton” and the Greek word “sauros,” which means “lizard.” 

This dinosaur belongs to the Ornithopoda group, specifically the Hadrosauridae family. Within the genus are two recognized subspecies: Edmontosaurus regalis and Edmontosaurus annectens.

This herbivorous dinosaur lived during the Late Cretaceous period, specifically from the Late Campanian to Lancian epochs. This was a time at the end of the Age of Dinosaurs when the earth was teeming with a diverse range of dinosaur species.

Listen to Pronunciation

Discovery & Fossil Evidence

The first discovery was made in 1912 by Levi Sternberg in Alberta, Canada. This significant find was later described by Canadian paleontologist Lawrence Lambe in 1917. Since then, numerous fossils of this dinosaur have been found, providing valuable insights into its existence and characteristics.

Photograph of the Edmontosaurus skeleton displayed in a museum, showcasing the well-preserved bones of this Late Cretaceous herbivorous dinosaur. The Edmontosaurus, known for its flat snout and duck-billed appearance, is an impressive example of hadrosaurid anatomy and size.
Gary Todd, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Fossils have also been discovered in various locations across the United States, including Alaska, Colorado, Montana, New Jersey, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming. These fossils, which range from partial skeletons to nearly complete specimens, have greatly contributed to our understanding of this dinosaur’s physical attributes and geographical distribution.

Edmontosaurus Size and Description

This herbivore is a fascinating dinosaur with a unique set of physical characteristics that set it apart from other dinosaurs of its time. Let’s explore what sets it apart from the others of its time.

Short description of Edmontosaurus

It was a large dinosaur that was characterized by its long, flat head and duck-like bill. Its body was robust and supported by strong legs that allowed it to move on either two or four feet. Its tail was long and flat and its skin was covered in scales. The dinosaur’s speed is estimated to have been moderate–suitable for its herbivorous lifestyle.

Size and Weight of Type Species

Illustration comparing the size of Edmontosaurus annectens (green) and Edmontosaurus regalis (gray) to a human. This visual representation highlights the massive size of these Late Cretaceous hadrosaurid dinosaurs, with Edmontosaurus annectens reaching lengths of up to 13 meters.
Original: Arthur Weasley, Matt Martyniuk, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

This was a sizable dinosaur with different estimates suggesting varying dimensions. Some sources suggest that it could have reached lengths of up to 39 feet and heights of up to 10 feet. Its weight is estimated to have been around 4 tons. However, these figures are averages and individual sizes could have varied.

The Dinosaur in Detail

The Edmontosaurus is a marvel of prehistoric design with features that not only set it apart from other dinosaurs but also ensured its survival in the Late Cretaceous period. Its duck-billed head, for instance, was a unique adaptation that allowed it to feed on a variety of plant life, contributing to its herbivorous diet. Its bill was toothless, but numerous cheek teeth grew in columns and were continually replaced throughout its life. Skin impressions have been found from specimens of both Edmontosaurus species and display the designs of their scales.

Another notable feature is its ability to move both bipedally and quadrupedally. This versatility in locomotion likely gave it an advantage in terms of mobility and allowed it to adapt to different environments and situations. It also had a long, flat tail which may have served multiple purposes. While the exact function of the tail is still a subject of debate among paleontologists, it’s possible that it was used for balance, communication, or even defense against predators.

The Edmontosaurus in its Natural Habitat

Artistic depiction of a prehistoric scene featuring Dakotaraptor, Edmontosaurus, Pachycephalosaurus, and Tyrannosaurus. This image illustrates the diverse ecosystem of the Late Cretaceous period, showcasing various dinosaur species interacting in a lush, forested environment.
ABelov2014, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This dinosaur lived in a world vastly different from our own. The Late Cretaceous period was characterized by a warm climate and diverse vegetation, providing an ideal environment for this herbivorous dinosaur. It likely roamed across vast plains and forests, feeding on a variety of plants. North America was divided into two paleocontinents by an interior seaway. The Edmontosaurus was one of few dinosaurs that could be found on both Appalachia and Laramidia.

As an herbivore, it would have played a crucial role in the ecosystem by helping to shape the landscape through its feeding habits. Its diet likely consisted of ferns, conifers, and other plant life prevalent during the Cretaceous period.

The ability to move both on two legs and on all fours suggests a flexible lifestyle. It may have used its bipedal locomotion for faster movement, perhaps to escape predators or migrate over long distances, while its quadrupedal movement could have been used for slower, more deliberate actions such as grazing and browsing.

Interesting Points about Edmontosaurus

  1. This is one of the few dinosaurs that has been found with preserved skin impressions, providing valuable insights into its physical appearance and texture.
  2. It had a large number of teeth (up to 1,000 in some cases), which were continually replaced throughout its life.
  3. This is believed to have been a herd animal that lived and migrated in large groups.
  4. Some fossils have been found with evidence of injuries and healing, suggesting that this dinosaur could survive significant wounds.
  5. This is one of the last known non-avian dinosaurs, having lived until the end of the Cretaceous period.

Contemporary Dinosaurs

The Edmontosaurus, a creature of notable stature, shared its world with a captivating array of contemporaries. Among these were the North American dinosaurs Tyrannosaurus, Sphaerotholus, and Maiasaura, each contributing to the intricate dance of existence in their own unique ways. Their lives were intertwined in a complex web of survival and competition.

The terrifying Tyrannosaurus towered over this landscape. Its presence must have been a constant reminder of the harsh realities of life in this prehistoric world for the Edmontosaurus. Yet, despite being significantly smaller, the Edmontosaurus was no less important in the grand scheme of things. Its herbivorous diet played a crucial role in maintaining the balance of the ecosystem, and its potential role as prey could have influenced the hunting patterns of the Tyrannosaurus.

On the other hand, the Sphaerotholus and Maiasaura, while not as physically imposing as the Tyrannosaurus, added their own unique perspectives to this prehistoric landscape. The distinctive dome-shaped skull of the Sphaerotholus and the Maiasaura, known for its nurturing behavior, might have had interactions with the Edmontosaurus that were less confrontational but no less significant. These interactions, whether they were competing for similar food sources or sharing common nesting grounds, would have shaped the behavior and evolution of the Edmontosaurus in subtle yet profound ways. Through this lens, we can begin to appreciate the intricate relationships and delicate balance that characterized the world of the Edmontosaurus and its contemporaries.

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 “lizard from Edmonton,” named after the capital city of Alberta, Canada where it was originally found.

When did this dinosaur live?

It lived during the Late Cretaceous period, specifically from 83.5 to 66 million years ago.

What did it eat?

The Edmontosaurus was a duck-billed herbivore, feeding on a variety of plant life.

How did this dinosaur move?

It had the ability to move both bipedally and quadrupedally. It is likely that it used each manner of movement for different activities, such as feeding versus escaping predators.

Where were the first fossils found?

The first fossils were discovered in Alberta, Canada in 1912 by Levi Sternberg.


This article was last fact-checked: Joey Arboleda, 06-11-2023

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