Alxasaurus: Unveiling the Mysteries of an Early Cretaceous Herbivore

Today, we’re delving into the world of Alxasaurus, a fascinating dinosaur that once thrived during the Early Cretaceous Period. Imagine, if you will, a creature that lived over 100 million years ago, leaving behind clues for us to piece together its existence. Alxasaurus, with its unique features and intriguing history, offers a captivating glimpse into a distant past.

Alxasaurus Key Facts

KeywordFact
PronunciationAwl-shah-sawr-us
Meaning of nameAlxa Lizard
GroupTheropod
Type SpeciesAlxasaurus elesitaiensis
DietHerbivore
When it Lived125.0 to 113.0 MYA
PeriodEarly Cretaceous
EpochAptian
Length13.0 feet
Height6.6 feet
Weight900.0 lbs
MobilityMoved on two legs
First Discovery1988 by Dale Russell and Dong Zhiming
Described by1993 by Dale Russell and Dong Zhiming
HolotypeIVPP 88402
Location of first findBayin-Gobi Formation, Mongolia

Alxasaurus Origins, Taxonomy and Timeline

Alxasaurus, whose name translates to “Alxa Lizard,” owes its moniker to the Alxa Desert of Inner Mongolia where it was first discovered. The name is a nod to the region, also known as the “Alashan” desert, combined with the Greek word “sauros,” meaning lizard. This fascinating creature belongs to the Theropod group, specifically the Therizinosauroid family. Its type species is Alxasaurus elesitaiensis.

Alxasaurus is a therizinosauroid theropod dinosaur from the Early Cretaceous of Mongolia
UnexpectedDinoLesson, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The timeline of this Asian dinosaur is set in the Early Cretaceous Period, specifically during the Aptian Epoch. This places its existence approximately between 125.0 to 113.0 million years ago. It’s a journey back to a world vastly different from our own, where Alxasaurus played its part in the ancient ecosystem.

Listen to Pronunciation

The pronunciation of Alxasaurus can be a bit tricky. However, you can listen to the correct pronunciation here.

Discovery & Fossil Evidence

The story of this discovery begins in 1988 in the expansive landscapes of inner Mongolia. It was here that Canadian paleontologist Dale Russell and Dong Zhiming unearthed the first evidence of this prehistoric creature. Their findings were formally described in 1993, marking a significant addition to the world of paleontology.

The holotype, designated IVPP 88402, provides a crucial reference for understanding Alxasaurus. While the details of subsequent finds remain scarce, the initial discovery has offered valuable insights into this dinosaur’s existence. The fossils, though limited, have allowed scientists to piece together a picture of this dinosaur by shedding light on its physical characteristics and place in the prehistoric world.

Alxasaurus Size and Description

Let’s take a closer look at this giant herbivore, a dinosaur that intrigues with its unique stature and build. While there’s some variation in size among the specimens discovered, we can still paint a fairly accurate picture of its dimensions.

Short Description of Alxasaurus

Alxasaurus stands out with its distinctive body shape, a precursor to the later Therizinosauroids. Its long neck and short tail are notable features, along with relatively large claws. These features all contribute to its unique silhouette. 

Size and Weight of Type Species

Size comparison of the Lower Cretaceous Chinese therizinosauroid maniraptoran Alxasaurus elesitaiensis.
Slate Weasel, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

The size of this giant dino has been a subject of study and estimation. Gregory Paul, a notable figure in the field, estimated that an adult of this species could reach up to 13.0 feet in length and weigh almost 900.0 pounds. These estimates place Alxasaurus among the smaller members of the Therizinosauroidea, yet its body shape and features are consistent with the group. Its bipedal stance and herbivorous diet, coupled with its size, paint a picture of a creature uniquely adapted to its environment and lifestyle.

The Dinosaur in Detail

Alxasaurus stands out for several reasons. Its unique features not only distinguish it from other dinosaurs but also shed light on its adaptability and survival instincts. The notable specimens that have been discovered contribute significantly to our understanding of this giant herbivore, offering a more detailed picture of this remarkable creature. Specimens of several ages have helped paint a more complete picture of the life cycle of this dinosaur. As a bipedal herbivore, its anatomy was well-suited for its diet, with a large gut adept at processing plant material.

Interesting Points about Alxasaurus

The Alxasaurus in its Natural Habitat

Imagine the world of this ancient herbivore, a landscape shaped by the climate and geography of the Early Cretaceous Period. The environment in which it lived would have been marked by specific types of vegetation, influencing its diet as a herbivore. Its bipedal locomotion suggests a certain agility that possibly aided in its survival. While details of its social behavior remain speculative, understanding its habitat offers a window into the life of Alxasaurus.

Contemporary Dinosaurs

In the flourishing world of the Early Cretaceous, this dinosaur was a notable presence, its stature and strength setting it apart from its contemporaries. Imagine a robust figure navigating through the dense foliage, a beacon of might in a world teeming with diverse life. It towered over the Beipiaosaurus, a fellow Therizinosaur, which navigated the underbrush with a more delicate grace. Their interactions, one might imagine, were akin to a dance of giants and sprites – a gentle competition for the lush vegetation that carpeted their world.

Nearby, the diminutive Archaeoceratops was a creature smaller than both. It might have been a mere observer in this quiet rivalry. This small, horned dinosaur likely skirted around the Alxasaurus, avoiding the larger dinosaur’s path with respectful wariness. The Alxasaurus, mostly preoccupied with its leafy meals, would have paid little attention to this tiny contemporary. 

Then there was the Gobisaurus, another herbivore smaller than the Alxasaurus. Their interactions might have been marked by a subtle struggle for survival as they both sought after the same bountiful plants. Picture two beings, each significant in their own right, their paths intertwining in a silent but profound contest for life’s necessities.

However, not all encounters were so benign. The Microraptor, with its sleek, feathered form, was a stark contrast to the Alxasaurus. Despite its smaller size, it was a predator, and one can envision it observing the young Alxasaurus with a calculating gaze. Though the adults were not its prey, their encounters might have been tense, especially if a Microraptor ventured too close to a vulnerable young Alxasaurus. In these moments, the dynamics of this ancient ecosystem were vividly illustrated, with the Alxasaurus standing as a central, compelling figure in a world both enchanting and fierce.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does the name of this dinosaur mean?

Alxasaurus means “Alxa Lizard,” named after the Alxa Desert of Inner Mongolia where it was first discovered.

When did this dinosaur live?

It lived during the Early Cretaceous Period, approximately between 125.0 to 113.0 million years ago.

What type of diet did this dinosaur have?

It was an herbivore, feeding on the vegetation available during its time.

How was this dinosaur discovered?

It was discovered in 1988 by Dale Russell and Dong Zhiming in Mongolia.

What group does this dinosaur belong to?

It belongs to the Theropod group, specifically the Therizinosauroid family.

Sources

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 Alxasaurus. 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, 11-01-2023

Featured Image Credit: Conty, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons