Bellusaurus: The Beautiful Lizard from the Middle Jurassic of China

Let’s take a journey back in time to the Middle Jurassic period where a unique dinosaur roamed the earth. This dinosaur, known as Bellusaurus, was a small, short-necked sauropod that left a significant mark in the fossil record. The name Bellusaurus, which means “beautiful lizard,” is a testament to the creature’s elegance and grace.

Bellusaurus Key Facts

Bellusaurus pronunciationbel-uh-saw-ruhs
Meaning of nameBeautiful lizard
Type SpeciesBellusaurus sui
When it Lived163.5 to 157.3 MYA
PeriodMiddle Jurassic
Length16.0 ft
Height7.2 ft
Weight0.5 tons
MobilityMoved on four legs
First Discovery1983 by Xinjiang Paleontological Research Team
Location of first findShishugou Formation, China
First Described by1990 by Dong Zhiming
HolotypeIVPP V 8299

Bellusaurus Origins: Taxonomy, Timeline, and Discovery

Bellusaurus by Debivort

The name Bellusaurus, which translates to “beautiful lizard,” is derived from the Latin word ‘bellus‘ meaning beautiful and the Greek word ‘sauros‘ meaning lizard. It’s a name that captures the essence of this creature’s elegance and grace.

In terms of taxonomy, it belongs to the Sauropoda group, specifically the Mamenchisauridae family. The type species of this genus is Bellusaurus sui. Sauropods are known for their long necks, long tails, small heads, and thick, pillar-like legs–and this dinosaur was no exception.

It lived during the Middle Jurassic period, specifically the Oxfordian epoch. The first discovery was made in 1983 by the Xinjiang Paleontological Research Team. The fossils were found in the Shishugou Formation, located in China. However, it wasn’t until 1990 that the dinosaur was formally described by Chinese paleontologist Dong Zhiming.

Fossil Evidence

The first fossils were discovered in the Shishugou Formation, a geological formation in China known for its rich fossil record. The discovery was made by the Xinjiang Paleontological Research Team in 1983. The team unearthed a significant number of fossils, suggesting that Bellusaurus may have been quite common during its time.

Bellusaurus skeleton
Kabacchi, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The fossils were well-preserved, providing valuable insights into the physical characteristics and lifestyle of Bellusaurus. The fossils included a variety of bones, including vertebrae, limb bones, and skull fragments. These fossils have been instrumental in helping paleontologists piece together a picture of what it looked like and how it lived.

One of the most notable aspects of this dinosaur’s fossil record is the number of individual specimens found. Seventeen individuals were found in a single quarry, suggesting that a herd of Bellusaurus may have been killed in a flash flood. This discovery provides evidence that they may have lived in herds as it is a behavior common among many sauropod species.

Bellusaurus Size and Description

This was a small, short-necked sauropod dinosaur. Compared to other sauropods, this dinosaur was compact with a short neck and tail. The head of Bellusaurus was also small with a narrow snout. Its limbs were robust to the weight of its body. Despite its small size, Bellusaurus was a capable creature, able to move quickly to evade predators.

Size and Weight of Type Species

Bellusaurus size
Scott Hartman, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

According to the information available, it measured about 16 ft long (4.8 meters) long. This makes it one of the smaller members of the sauropod group. Its weight is not definitively known, but has been estimated to arounf 1000 lbs. Given its size, it’s likely that it was lighter than many of its sauropod relatives.

The Dinosaur in Detail

Despite its small size, this was a creature of remarkable design. Its compact body, short neck, and short tail set it apart from other sauropods which were typically characterized by long necks and tails. This unique design likely contributed to its survival in the diverse ecosystem of the Middle Jurassic period.

One of its most striking features was its skull. Unlike many sauropods, whose skulls were not often preserved in the fossil record, several Bellusaurus skull fragments have been found. These fossils reveal a narrow, elongated snout that hints at a selective feeding strategy.

The discovery of multiple individuals in a single location suggests that these dinosaurs may have lived in herds. This social behavior could have offered protection from predators and helped them find food. The idea of a herd of these small, graceful sauropods moving together through the Jurassic landscape is truly a sight to behold.

The Bellusaurus in its Natural Habitat and Environment

This herbivorous dinosaur lived during the Middle Jurassic period, a time when the earth was a very different place than it is today. Pangaea was beginning to split up into two continents–Laurasia to the north and Gondwana to the south. Our dinosaur made its home in the lush Laurasia. As an herbivore, Bellusaurus would have feasted on the abundant plant life and used its narrow, elongated snout to selectively feed on the most nutritious plants.

There are a few hypotheses that support the idea that these dinosaurs lived in herds. This social behavior could have offered protection from predators as well as helped them to find food. The idea of a herd of these small, graceful sauropods moving together through the Jurassic landscape is truly a sight to behold.

With its small size and short neck, this was likely a low browser that fed on low-lying vegetation. Its diet would have consisted primarily of ferns and other low-growing plants. The abundance of these plants in its environment would have made it an ideal habitat for Bellusaurus.

Interesting Points about Bellusaurus

  1. This was a small sauropod, measuring only about 4.8 meters (16 feet) long.
  2. The name Bellusaurus means “beautiful lizard,” a testament to its graceful form.
  3. Multiple individuals were found together which suggests that they lived in herds.
  4. It lived during the Middle Jurassic period, a time of great dinosaur diversity.
  5. It differs from other sauropods in having a short neck and tail.

Contemporary Dinosaurs

This creature of notable stature shared its world with an intriguing ensemble of contemporaries. These fellow Laurasian dinosaurs, each unique in their own right, played a part in shaping the ecosystem of their continent as it developed while Pangaea broke apart.

The size of the Mamenchisaurus, a long-necked behemoth, would have dwarfed the comparatively diminutive Bellusaurus. Despite their size difference, these two species coexisted by finding their own niche in the ecosystem. The Bellusaurus, with its shorter neck and smaller stature, likely fed on lower vegetation while the Mamenchisaurus, with its towering height, could reach the untouched foliage of towering trees.

The Shunosaurus and Omeisaurus, other contemporaries of the Bellusaurus, also played significant roles in this prehistoric tableau. The Shunosaurus, with its distinctive club-like tail, could have been a formidable adversary or an unlikely ally in times of danger. The Omeisaurus, another long-necked herbivore, might have been a competitor for food resources. Much like the Mamenchisaurus, its larger size allowed it to reach higher vegetation, reducing direct competition with the Bellusaurus.

The presence of the Yangchuanosaurus, a large theropod dinosaur, adds an element of danger and excitement to this prehistoric scene. As a potential predator, the Bellusaurus would have needed to be wary of this powerful dinosaur. This predator-prey dynamic would have added a layer of complexity to the Bellusaurus’ existence by influencing its behavior and shaping its evolution.

In this intricate dance of survival, the Bellusaurus and its contemporaries paint a vivid picture of life in the Jurassic period. Each dinosaur, with its unique traits and behaviors, contributed to the richness of this prehistoric ecosystem.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does Bellusaurus mean?

The name means “beautiful lizard,” a name that reflects its graceful form.

How big was this dinosaur?

It was a small sauropod, measuring about 4.8 meters (16 feet) long.

When did it live?

It lived during the Middle Jurassic period, around 163.5 to 157.3 million years ago.

What did it eat?

As an herbivore, it likely fed on a diet of ferns and other low-lying plants.

Did Bellusaurus live in herds?

The discovery of multiple individuals together suggests that they may have lived in herds.


Article fact checked: Joey Arboleda, 06-10-2023

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