Gigantspinosaurus – Giant-Spined Lizard of the Late Jurassic

The Gigantspinosaurus, whose name translates to “Giant-Spined Lizard,” roamed the earth during the Late Jurassic Period. It belonged to the Stegosaurid family, a group known for their distinctive plates and spikes. Not to be confused with Spinosaurus, this herbivorous dinosaur lived approximately between 168.3 and 163.5 million years ago. Let’s delve into the world of this remarkable dinosaur, exploring its origins, discovery, and the environment it called home.

Gigantspinosaurus Key Facts

Meaning of nameGiant-Spined Lizard
Type SpeciesGigantspinosaurus sichuanensis
When it Lived168.3 to 163.5 MYA
PeriodLate Jurassic
EpochBathonian to the top of the Callovian
Length14.0 feet
HeightApproximately 5.5 feet
Weight1,500.0 lbs
MobilityMoved on 4 legs
First Discovery1985 by Ouyang Hui
Location of first findUpper Shaximiao Formation of Zigong, Sichuan, China
First Described by1992 by Ouyang Hui
HolotypeZDM 0019

Gigantspinosaurus Origins, Taxonomy and Timeline

The Gigantspinosaurus, a name that conjures images of grandeur, owes its etymology to Latin roots: ‘gigas’ or ‘giganteus’ for enormous, ‘spina’ for spine, and ‘saurus’ for a reptile or lizard. This nomenclature perfectly encapsulates the defining characteristics of this prehistoric creature.

Detailed illustration of Gigantspinosaurus, highlighting its unique features. The dinosaur is depicted with a light brown body covered in a network of darker brown markings. It has large, distinctive shoulder spines and a series of small plates along its back. A blue patch is visible on its lower neck, adding a splash of color.
Antonio R. Mihaila, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Belonging to the Stegosaurid Stegosaurid family, the sole species of this genus is Gigantspinosaurus sichuanensis. This classification places it within a lineage of herbivorous dinosaurs known for their distinctive physical features.

The timeline of this dinosaur spans the Late Jurassic Period, specifically from the Bathonian to the Callovian Epochs. This translates to an existence around 160 million years ago in a period marked by significant geological and biological changes.

Discovery & Fossil Evidence

A well-preserved skeleton of Gigantspinosaurus sichuanensis on display at the Zigong Dinosaur Museum. The skeleton showcases the dinosaur's unique anatomical features, including its large shoulder spines and series of small plates along the back.
Zhangzhugang, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The journey to uncovering the Gigantspinosaurus began in 1985, not with a clear revelation, but with a case of mistaken identity. Ouyang Hui discovered the first fossil near Jinquan, in an area known as Pengtang. Initially, Gao Ruiqi and colleagues, in their 1986 report, misidentified it as a specimen of Tuojiangosaurus. It wasn’t until 1992 that the Gigantspinosaurus sichuanensis was correctly identified and named by Ouyang. The name, derived from Latin, aptly reflects its most striking feature: the enormous shoulder spines. The “sichuanensis” in its name pays homage to Sichuan, the province where it was discovered.

The holotype, labeled ZDM 0019, was unearthed from the layers of the Upper Shaximiao Formation in the Zigong region in Sichuan province. These layers date back to the Oxfordian Epoch of the Late Jurassic. The specimen is believed to be a subadult. It is not complete; it lacks the skull, hind feet, and the tail end. However, what makes it particularly significant is the variety of elements found with it. Alongside skeletal parts, researchers discovered plates, spines, scutes, and even an impression of the skin on the left shoulder. This array of findings provides a more comprehensive understanding of the dinosaur’s physical characteristics.

Since 1996, a restored skeleton of this specimen has been on display at the Zigong Dinosaur Museum. This exhibit not only showcases its impressive size and structure but also serves as a tangible connection to a creature that roamed the earth millions of years ago.

Gigantspinosaurus Size and Description

Let’s paint a picture of the Gigantspinosaurus, a creature that roamed the earth millions of years ago. Imagine a landscape where this dinosaur was a prominent figure, its unique features setting it apart from its contemporaries.

Size and Weight of Type Species

A size comparison chart depicting Gigantspinosaurus sichuanensis alongside a human for scale. This Late Jurassic herbivorous dinosaur, characterized by its large shoulder spines and quadrupedal stance, measures approximately 3 meters in length, highlighting its relatively modest size compared to other stegosaurs
Slate Weasel, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Gigantspinosaurus, often described as a “medium-sized Stegosaur,” presents an intriguing profile in terms of its size. Gregory Paul in 2010 estimated this dinosaur to have been about 14.0 feet long and weighing around 1500.0 pounds. These dimensions place it in a unique position within its family, neither the largest nor the smallest, but rather a balanced embodiment of its kind. 

The Dinosaur in Detail

The physical appearance of the Gigantspinosaurus is nothing short of fascinating. Its most striking feature is the greatly enlarged shoulder spines. These are twice the length of the shoulder blades and rest on large flat bases. These spines, along with relatively small dorsal plates, give it a distinctive silhouette. The head is speculated to be relatively large. It housed thirty teeth in each lower jaw, hinting at a robust feeding mechanism. The broad hips and the fusion of neural spines into a single plate further accentuate its unique build. Adding to this, the skin impressions described by Xing Lida and colleagues in 2008 reveal intricate details: rosettes with central scales surrounded by smaller ridged scales, providing a glimpse into the texture of this remarkable creature.

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Interesting Points about Gigantspinosaurus

The Gigantspinosaurus in its Natural Habitat

Imagine the world of prehistoric Asia, a landscape marked by diverse vegetation and a climate that supported a rich ecosystem. This herbivorous dinosaur navigated through this environment, its diet consisting of the abundant plant life that characterized its era.

Its role in the ecosystem, whether as a solitary creature or part of a herd, remains unknown. Pairing this with interactions between other species paints a picture of a dynamic prehistoric world. The impact of this large herbivore on its environment, from shaping the landscape to influencing the ecosystem, cannot be understated. 

Contemporary Dinosaurs

In the lush world of the Late Jurassic Period, the Gigantspinosaurus roamed with a peculiar grace, its distinctive shoulder spines casting long shadows in the dappled sunlight. This unique dinosaur was neither the largest nor the smallest of its contemporaries. These Asian dinosaurs navigated a complex ecosystem where size often dictated the rules of engagement.

Among its neighbors was the Tuojiangosaurus, a fellow stegosaur that was slightly smaller but no less impressive. They likely shared grazing grounds, their beaked mouths plucking at the same ferns and cycads. It’s easy to imagine a peaceful coexistence, perhaps even a gentle acknowledgment as they crossed paths, their armored plates a testament to a life requiring defense rather than aggression. In contrast, the Chungkingosaurus, though roughly the same size as our main dinosaur, might have been a more solitary figure. Its presence would have been a reminder that even in a world of giants there is a hierarchy of sorts.

But life for the Gigantspinosaurus wasn’t all serene grazing. The formidable Yangchuanosaurus, larger and undeniably more ferocious, was a constant shadow of threat. This predator’s powerful jaws and keen senses might have made the Gigantspinosaurus a potential prey. One can envision tense encounters where the Gigantspinosaurus relied on its spiny armor and sheer size to dissuade this formidable hunter.

Then there was the Mamenchisaurus, a gentle giant towering above all. Larger than any of its contemporaries, it must have been a source of wonder for the Gigantspinosaurus. Perhaps they shared riverbanks, the Mamenchisaurus reaching for the high foliage while the Gigantspinosaurus contented itself with lower vegetation. In this ancient world, each dinosaur played a role. Their interactions paint a vivid picture of life in a time long gone with the Gigantspinosaurus at the heart of this prehistoric tapestry.

Frequently Asked Questions

When was this dinosaur first discovered?

It was discovered in 1985 by Ouyang Hui.

What does its name mean?

The name Gigantspinosaurus means “Giant-Spined Lizard.”

What period did it live in?

It lived during the Late Jurassic Period, approximately 168.3 to 163.5 million years ago.

What was its diet?

The Gigantspinosaurus was an herbivore. It would have eaten low-lying vegetation.

Where was it first found?

It was first found in the Upper Shaximiao Formation of Zigong, Sichuan, China.

What family does it belong to?

It belongs to the Stegosaurid family.


The information in this article is based on various sources, drawing on scientific research, fossil evidence, and expert analysis. The aim is to provide a comprehensive and accurate overview of the Gigantspinosaurus. However, please be aware that our understanding of dinosaurs and their world is constantly evolving as new discoveries are made.

This article was last fact-checked: Joey Arboleda, 11-04-2023

Featured Image Credit: Conty, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons