Antarctopelta – The “Antarctic Shield”

Antarctopelta – The “Antarctic Shield”

Antarctopelta is a somewhat mysterious dinosaur. Discovered in a place where you’d least expect to find dinosaurs, this creature offers a fascinating glimpse into a past world. Its name, meaning “Antarctic Shield,” hints at both its armored nature and its surprising location of discovery. So, let’s dive into the world of Antarctopelta and uncover the secrets it holds.

Antarctopelta Key Facts

Meaning of nameAntarctic Shield
Type SpeciesAntarctopelta oliveroi
When it Lived80 to 70 (roughly) MYA
PeriodLate Cretaceous
EpochUpper Campanian – lower Maastrichtian
Length13.0 to 20.0 feet
HeightApproximately 5.0 feet
Weight770.0 lbs
MobilityMoved on all four
First Discovery1986 by Eduardo Olivero and Roberto Scasso
Location of first findAntarctic Peninsula
First Described by2006 by Leonardo Salgado and Zulma Gasparini
HolotypeMLP 86-x-28-1

Antarctopelta Origins, Taxonomy and Timeline

Antarctopelta (meaning: Antarctic Shield), is derived from the Greek words “pelta” (shield) and refers to the Antarctic continent. This genus of ankylosaurian dinosaur, known for being large, quadrupedal herbivores, lived during the Campanian and Maastrichtian Ages of the Late Cretaceous Period, roughly between 70 to 80 million years ago.

Line drawing of Antarctopelta, an armored dinosaur from the Late Cretaceous period. Antarctopelta was a herbivore known for its distinctive body armor and lived in what is now Antarctica.

Antarctopelta holds the distinction of being the only known ankylosaur from Antarctica, and the first dinosaur to be found on the continent in 1986, making it a unique and significant find in the field of paleontology. It is a member of Parankylosauria, and is closely related to Kunbarrasaurus and Stegouros. This lineage of dinosaurs is characterized by their heavily armored bodies and herbivorous lifestyle. 

The discovery of Antarctopelta dates back to 1986, by Argentinian geologists Eduardo Olivero and Robert Scasso. However, it wasn’t until two decades later, in 2006, that Argentinian paleontologists Leonardo Salgado and Zulma Gasparini provided a detailed description of the fossils. In honor of one of its discoverers, they named the type species Antarctopelta oliveroi. Antarctopelta’s timeline places it in a world that was vastly different from the icy landscape of modern Antarctica. During the Late Cretaceous, this region would have had a much milder climate, allowing a diverse range of flora and fauna, including dinosaurs like Antarctopelta, to thrive.

Discovery & Fossil Evidence

In the frosty realm of Antarctica, during a 1986 expedition to James Ross Island, Argentine geologists Eduardo Olivero and Roberto Scasso made a groundbreaking discovery. They unearthed the incomplete skeleton of one individual, that would then become Antarctopelta, in the Gamma Member of the Santa Marta Formation, dating back to the upper Campanian – lower Maastrichtian Ages. However, the harsh Antarctic conditions meant that fully excavating the skeleton stretched over several field seasons, a testament to the resilience and dedication of the team. Antarctopelta was retrieved on James Ross Island.

The site, covering 6 square meters (65 square feet), revealed bones scattered across the area, heavily worn due to freeze-thaw weathering. Among these remains was a tooth of the shark Notidanodon. This, along with the presence of bivalves, suggests that Antarctopelta likely met its end and drifted out to sea, a fate shared by other ankylosaurs.

The holotype, MLP 86-X-28-1, is a collection of various parts. It includes teeth, fragments of the skull and jaw, vertebrae from different body parts, shoulder and hip bones, a thigh bone, and pieces of foot and hand bones, along with armor. Initially, one phalanx was thought to belong to a different individual, but this has been disproven.

This discovery, marking the first dinosaur ever found in Antarctica, significantly expanded our understanding of dinosaur distribution.

Antarctopelta Size and Description

Size comparison chart of Antarctopelta oliveroi, showing the dinosaur's length of approximately 4 meters alongside a human silhouette for scale. This armored herbivore from Antarctica lived during the Late Cretaceous period.
SlvrHwk, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Antarctopelta oliveroi, a parankylosaur ankylosaur, was a formidable creature. Estimates of its size vary, with some suggesting a length of approximately 13.0 feet from snout to tail tip. However, a higher estimation by Gregory Paul in 2010 posits a length of around 20.0 feet and a weight of approximately 770.0 lbs. These figures paint a picture of a stocky, robust dinosaur, well-adapted to its environment.


Antarctopelta’s physical form was that of a classic ankylosaur: a quadrupedal, herbivorous dinosaur enveloped in protective armor. The armor, embedded in its skin, was a key adaptation for defense against predators. Its head was small, with jaws lined with leaf-shaped teeth, suitable for its plant-based diet. The limbs of Antarctopelta were short and roughly equal in length, providing a stable base for its heavy body. The forefeet had five toes, while the hindfeet had six, further contributing to its sturdy build.

The skull of Antarctopelta, though not fully known, reveals fascinating details. The fragments found were heavily ossified, indicating a strong protective structure. Notably, a cranial bone identified as a supraorbital had a short spike, projecting outward over the eye, adding to its defensive features.

Antarctopelta’s unique features, from its armored body to its ossified skull, reflect a dinosaur well-equipped for survival. Its adaptations not only provided defense but also hinted at the challenges of its environment. The combination of size, armor, and physical characteristics underscores Antarctopelta’s role as a resilient inhabitant of its prehistoric world.

Interesting Points about Antarctopelta

Antarctopelta in its Natural Habitat

Imagine the world of Antarctopelta, a landscape vastly different from the icy expanse of modern Antarctica. This dinosaur inhabited a region with a more temperate climate, diverse vegetation, and a dynamic ecosystem.

As a herbivore, Antarctopelta grazed on the vegetation of its time. Its mobility, moving on all four, suggests a steady, perhaps unhurried pace. While not a predator, its armored body indicates the presence of threats, painting a picture of a complex food web and predator-prey relationships.

The social behavior of Antarctopelta remains a mystery. Whether it was a solitary wanderer or part of a herd, its existence undoubtedly shaped the landscape and ecosystem around it.

Contemporary Dinosaurs

Trinisaura and Morrosaurus, two “elasmarian” iguanodont, were also found on James Ross Island in Antartica, and lived in the same time frame than Antarctopelta. Those three were herbivorous, and likely in competition for leaves and branches to feed on. Not so far away in Patagonia, lived Talenkauen another “elasmarian” iguanodont that might have crossed the path of Antarctopelta.

Frequently Asked Questions

When was this dinosaur discovered?

Antarctopelta was discovered in 1986 by Eduardo Olivero and Roberto Scasso.

What does its name mean?

The name Antarctopelta means “Antarctic Shield.”

What type of dinosaur is it?

Antarctopelta is an armored dinosaur, specifically a parankylosaur.

Where was it found?

It was found on the Antarctic Peninsula, on the James Ross Island.

What did it eat?

Antarctopelta was a herbivore, feeding on vegetation.

How did it move?

It moved on all four, suggesting a stable and robust locomotion.


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 Antarctopelta. 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; Alienor Duhamel, 11-18-2023

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