Saltasaurus: A Glimpse into the Late Cretaceous Era

When we delve into the realm of the Late Cretaceous Period, Saltasaurus often emerges as a subject of fascination. This remarkable dinosaur, whose name translates to “Salta Lizard,” referencing its discovery in the Salta Province of Argentina, presents a captivating chapter in the ancient world. Its discovery not only enriches our understanding of the diverse dinosaur species that once roamed our planet but also offers a window into a bygone era, teeming with unique and intriguing life forms.

Saltasaurus, a member of the Sauropod family, stands out for its distinctive characteristics and the insights it provides into the dinosaurian world. As we explore this ancient creature, we embark on a journey back in time, uncovering the secrets of its existence and the environment it inhabited. This journey not only satisfies our curiosity about the past but also enhances our appreciation for the complexity and diversity of life on Earth.

Saltasaurus Key Facts

Meaning of nameSalta Lizard
Type SpeciesSaltasaurus loricatus
When it Lived83.6 to 66.0 MYA
PeriodLate Cretaceous
EpochCampanian to Maastrichtian
Length28.0 feet
HeightApproximately 11.5 feet
Weight2.8 tons
MobilityMoved on all four
First Discovery1975 by José Bonaparte, Martín Vince and Juan C. Leal
Described by1980 by José Bonaparte and Jaime E. Powell
HolotypePVL 4017-92
Location of first findSalta Region, Argentina

Saltasaurus Origins, Taxonomy and Timeline

Saltasaurus, a name that resonates with the echoes of its discovery site in Salta, Argentina, is a testament to the rich paleontological heritage of this region. The name, a blend of “Salta” and the Greek word “sauros” meaning lizard or reptile, encapsulates both its geographical roots and its reptilian nature.

 A lifelike illustration of Saltasaurus, a sauropod dinosaur from the Late Cretaceous period. The image depicts the dinosaur with its distinctive armored skin, featuring small bony plates and nodules. This quadrupedal herbivore is shown with a long neck and tail, emphasizing its large size and unique physical traits. The illustration provides a detailed and accurate representation of Saltasaurus, highlighting its adaptations and appearance.

Belonging to the Sauropod group, this dinosaur is a member of the Saltasaurinae (Sauropoda: Titanosauria), with the only known species named Saltasaurus loricatus

The timeline of this ancient creature is anchored in the Late Cretaceous Period, specifically during the Early Maastrichtian Epoch. It thrived approximately between 83.6 and 66.0 million years ago, a period marked by significant geological and climatic changes that shaped the course of life on Earth.

Listen to Pronunciation

To listen to the correct pronunciation of this dino’s name, check out this video.

Discovery & Fossil Evidence

The discovery of Saltasaurus in 1975 by José Bonaparte, Martín Vince, and Juan C. Leal marked a significant moment in the field of paleontology. Unearthed in the Salta Region of Argentina, this find added a new dimension to our understanding of sauropod dinosaurs.

While Saltasaurus may not have been a groundbreaking discovery in terms of altering our fundamental understanding of dinosaurs, it nonetheless contributed valuable information to the scientific community. The fossils found, including bones and osteoderms, provided insights into the physical characteristics and lifestyle of this species.

The preservation of these fossils varied, with some specimens offering more detailed glimpses into the anatomy and physiology of Saltasaurus. Each fossil find has contributed to piecing together the puzzle of this dinosaur’s existence, gradually enhancing our knowledge of this ancient creature.

Saltasaurus Size and Description

Saltasaurus, a unique sauropod from the Late Cretaceous, presents an intriguing profile in terms of its physical characteristics and size. Let’s delve into its stature and the implications of its build.

Short Description of Saltasaurus

This dinosaur’s physical form was characterized by a robust, barrel-like body, reminiscent of a Hippopotamus, and a long neck. Its limbs, adapted for supporting its considerable bulk, indicate a quadrupedal locomotion. Saltasaurus also boasted distinctive skin, marked by osteoderms that provided it with a form of natural armor.

Size and Weight of Type Species

A size comparison diagram illustrating the scale of Saltasaurus, a sauropod dinosaur from the Late Cretaceous period, against the height of an average human. The diagram highlights the large size and robust build of Saltasaurus, emphasizing its distinctive armored body and long tail. This visual representation provides a clear perspective on the dinosaur's impressive dimensions and physical characteristics.
PaleoNeolitic, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Contrary to the typical image of towering sauropods, Saltasaurus was relatively diminutive in size. Powell initially estimated its adult length at around 6 meters. However, in 2010, Gregory S. Paul revised these figures, suggesting a maximum length of approximately 28.0 feet and a weight of about 2.8 tons. This smaller stature, compared to its sauropod relatives, adds a unique dimension to our understanding of the diversity within this dinosaur group.

Despite its smaller size, Saltasaurus was still graviportal, akin to other sauropods. This means it was not built for running; its hindlimbs had to remain straight during the load-bearing phase of their walking cycle. Powell’s hypothesis that Saltasaurus might have been partially aquatic, due to its hippopotamus-like build, adds another layer of intrigue to its lifestyle. Furthermore, the presence of body armor suggests that adults were well-equipped to defend themselves against predators, while the younger members of the species likely relied on the protection of the herd.

Saltasaurus in Detail

Saltasaurus, a Titanosaur sauropod, presents a fascinating case study in dinosaur adaptation and evolution. Its unique characteristics not only distinguished it from its contemporaries but also challenged previous assumptions in paleontology.

One of the most striking features of Saltasaurus was its crocodile-like armor, consisting of osteoderms about 10 to 12 centimeters (4 to 5 inches) in diameter. This discovery, made in 1975, was significant as it overturned the long-held belief that size alone was the primary defense mechanism for massive sauropods. The presence of this armor suggests that even large dinosaurs like Saltasaurus had to adapt to predatory threats in their environment.

Further intriguing insights into Saltasaurus come from a discovery in Auca Mahuevo, Patagonia, Argentina. Here, a large Titanosaurid nesting ground was unearthed, revealing the reproductive behavior of these creatures. Saltasaurus, like its relatives, likely dug holes with their hind feet, laid eggs in clutches averaging around 25, and then covered them with dirt and vegetation. The eggs, approximately 11-12 cm (4-5 inches) in diameter, contained fossilized embryos with skin impressions. These impressions showed a mosaic armor of small bead-like scales, similar to the armor pattern of Saltasaurus, providing a direct link to its early life stages.

Contemporary Dinosaurs

An artistic depiction of Saltasaurus dinosaurs in their natural habitat during the Late Cretaceous period. The scene shows a group of Saltasaurus individuals surrounded by dense forest vegetation, highlighting their armored bodies and long necks. This illustration provides a vivid representation of their environment and social behavior, emphasizing their adaptation to a lush, prehistoric landscape.
ABelov2014, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This hefty, armored herbivore, with its bony plates and spikes, was like a moving fortress amidst the greenery. Imagine Saltasaurus, a creature larger than a school bus, peacefully munching on ferns and low-lying foliage. Its size alone was a deterrent to many, but not all. In the same realm, lurking with predatory intent, was the slightly smaller but no less formidable Carnotaurus. This fierce carnivore, with its bulldog-like face and muscular build, was a stark contrast to the gentle giant. While Carnotaurus might have thought twice about attacking a full-grown Saltasaurus, young or unwell members of the herd could have been on its menu.

Then there was Aucasaurus, smaller than Carnotaurus but equally menacing in its own right. This predator, possibly more agile due to its size, might have eyed juvenile Saltasauruses as potential prey. Picture a tense standoff at a watering hole, where the towering Saltasaurus, aware of the danger, positions itself between its vulnerable young and these cunning hunters. The interactions weren’t always about conflict, though. Noasaurus, roughly the same size as Aucasaurus but likely less of a threat to Saltasaurus, might have scavenged leftovers from Carnotaurus’ kills or hunted smaller prey, coexisting without direct competition with the massive herbivore.

In this cretaceous drama, Saltasaurus was the central figure, a testament to the diversity and complexity of life millions of years ago. Its existence among these contemporaries paints a vivid picture of an ecosystem where size, strength, and strategy played critical roles. Whether it was a tense encounter with Carnotaurus or a more indifferent coexistence with Noasaurus, each interaction shaped the daily life of Saltasaurus, highlighting its role in a world long gone but fascinatingly alive in our imaginations.

Saltasaurus in its Natural Habitat

Saltasaurus thrived in a world that was undergoing significant ecological shifts. During the Late Cretaceous, in regions like South America and Africa, sauropods, particularly titanosaurs like Saltasaurus, continued to dominate as the primary herbivores. This contrasts with North America, where Ornithopods and Ceratopsians had become more prevalent.

Saltasaurus’ habitat was likely diverse, supporting its herbivorous diet. Its physical build, with a barrel-like rump akin to a Hippopotamus, led some paleontologists, like Powell, to speculate that it might have been partially aquatic. However, like other sauropods, it was graviportal, meaning its movement was restricted to walking with straight hindlimbs during the load-bearing phase, precluding the ability to run.

In terms of social behavior, it is hypothesized that Saltasaurus lived in herds. This assumption is partly based on the protective behavior observed in nesting sites, where juveniles were likely safeguarded by the group. The discovery of these nesting grounds not only provides insights into the reproductive strategies of Saltasaurus but also hints at the possibility of complex social structures within these herds. This communal approach to rearing young would have been a key factor in the survival and proliferation of the species in its natural environment.

Frequently Asked Questions

What era did this dinosaur live in?

Saltasaurus lived during the Late Cretaceous Period, approximately 83.6 to 66.0 million years ago.

Where was this dinosaur first discovered?

It was first discovered in the Salta Region of Argentina in 1975.

What type of diet did it have?

This dinosaur was a herbivore, feeding on the vegetation of its time.

Did it move on two or four legs?

Saltasaurus moved on all four legs, typical of sauropod locomotion.

What are some unique features of this dinosaur?

Unique features include its osteoderms, which provided a form of natural armor, and its relatively smaller size compared to other Sauropods.

Who first described this dinosaur?

José Bonaparte and Jaime E. Powell first described it in 1980.


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 Saltasaurus. 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, 12-14-2023

Featured Image Credit: Nobu Tamura, Via Wikimedia Commons