Camarasaurus: The Gentle Giant of the Jurassic Period

Sheer diversity and scale of the dinosaur kingdom. This colossal herbivore hails from the Jurassic period and is a fascinating study in both its physical characteristics and the environment it thrived in.

The Camarasaurus, whose name intriguingly translates to ‘chambered lizard’, showcases the marvels of evolution and the diversity of life that our planet has nurtured over the eons. This dinosaur’s unique features and adaptations offer a window into a world long past, yet one that has profoundly shaped the world we inhabit today.

Camarasaurus Key Facts

Camarasaurus pronunciationka-MAR-uh-SOR-us
Meaning of nameChambered lizard
Type SpeciesCamarasaurus supremus
When it Lived155.7 to 145.0 MYA
PeriodLate Jurassic
EpochLate/Upper Kimmeridgian to Early/Lower Tithonian
Length75.0 ft
Height15.0 ft
Weight20.0 tons
MobilityMoved on all four legs
First Discovery1877 by Oramel William Lucas
Location of first findColorado, USA
First Described by1877 by Edward Drinker Cope
HolotypeAMNH 560

Camarasaurus Origins: Taxonomy, Timeline, and Discovery

Camarasaurus dinosaur
Kathleen A. Ritterbush, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Camarasaurus, or ‘chambered lizard’, derives its name from the hollow chambers found in its vertebrae. This unique feature not only gives the dinosaur its name but also provides insight into its evolutionary adaptations. It belongs to the group Sauropodomorpha, known for their long necks and tails and small heads.

The taxonomic classification of the Camarasaurus places it in the family Camarasauridae, with several species attributed to it such as Camarasaurus supremus, Camarasaurus grandis, and Camarasaurus lentus. Each species offers a unique glimpse into the dinosaur’s evolutionary journey and highlights the diversity within a single genus.

This dinosaur lived during the Late Jurassic period around 155 to 145 million years ago. This period was characterized by a warm and humid climate with lush vegetation, providing the perfect environment for this herbivorous giant.

The first discovery was made in 1877 in Colorado, USA by Oramel William Lucas. The dinosaur was later described by Edward Drinker Cope, marking a significant milestone in the study of prehistoric life.

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Fossil Evidence

The first fossil was discovered in 1877 in Colorado, USA. Since then, numerous other fossils have been found across the United States, particularly in the Morrison Formation—a sequence of sedimentary rock from the Late Jurassic period. These fossils have provided invaluable insights into the dinosaur’s physical characteristics and lifestyle. These fossils were described by Cope later that year.

Camarasaurus skeleton
Ben Miller, CC BY 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

The fossils are notable for their excellent preservation, allowing scientists to study the dinosaur in great detail. They include a variety of bones, including vertebrae, limbs, and skulls, which offer a comprehensive view of the dinosaur’s anatomy.

One of the most notable specimens is a nearly complete skeleton of a juvenile Camarasaurus discovered in Dinosaur National Monument in Utah. This specimen has provided unique insights into the growth and development of the Camarasaurus and has shared a rare glimpse into the life of a juvenile dinosaur.

Camarasaurus Size and Description

With its colossal size and unique physical characteristics, this is a fascinating specimen within the dinosaur kingdom. Its body structure and adaptations offer insights into its lifestyle and the environment it thrived in.

Short description of Camarasaurus

This was a large, quadrupedal dinosaur, characterized by its long neck and tail and a relatively small head. Its vertebrae were uniquely hollow, leading to its ‘chambered lizard’ name. The dinosaur’s limbs were robust to support its massive body weight, while its tail likely served as a counterbalance for its long neck. The skin, like that of many dinosaurs, is believed to have been rough and scaly.

It moved on all four legs—a common trait among sauropods. While its speed is not definitively known, it is generally believed that it was not particularly fast given its size and body structure.

Size and Weight of Type Species

Camarasaurus size
PaleoGeekSquared, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This herbivorous dinosaur was a true giant among dinosaurs. The type species, Camarasaurus supremus, is estimated to have reached lengths of up to 75 feet and stood about 15 feet tall at the hips. Its weight is estimated to have been around 20 tons. These estimates, however, can vary based on different fossil specimens and interpretations by paleontologists.

The size of the Camarasaurus made it one of the largest land animals of its time. Its massive size likely played a crucial role in its survival and provided it with a certain degree of protection against predators.

The Dinosaur in Detail

The Camarasaurus is set apart from other dinosaurs by its unique features and adaptations. Its most distinguishing feature, the hollow chambers in its vertebrae, not only gives the dinosaur its name but also reflects its adaptability and survival instincts.

The hollow vertebrae of the Camarasaurus likely served multiple purposes. They would have reduced the weight of the dinosaur’s massive body to make movement easier. Additionally, these chambers could have housed air sacs, similar to those found in modern birds, potentially aiding in respiration and temperature regulation.

One notable specimen is a nearly complete skeleton of a juvenile, discovered in Dinosaur National Monument in Utah. This specimen has provided unique insights into the growth and development of the Camarasaurus and has shed light on aspects such as its growth rate and lifespan.

The Camarasaurus in its Natural Habitat

It lived during the Late Jurassic period, a time characterized by a warm and humid climate with lush vegetation. This environment would have provided abundant food sources for this herbivorous dinosaur, contributing to its massive size.

As an herbivore, it likely fed on a variety of plant life, including ferns, cycads, and conifers. Its strong, robust teeth would have allowed it to handle coarser plant material, setting it apart from other sauropods.

It moved on all four legs, a trait common among sauropods. This mode of locomotion combined with its massive size would have made this a slow-moving creature. Despite its slow speed, its size would have offered some protection against predators.

The social behavior is not definitively known but it is generally believed that, like many sauropods, it lived in herds. Living in groups could have offered additional protection against predators and facilitated access to food sources.

Interesting Points about Camarasaurus

  1. It had a relatively short, boxy skull—a feature that distinguished it from other sauropods.
  2. Unlike many sauropods, it had strong, robust teeth that indicated that it could feed on coarser plant material.
  3. The discovery of a nearly complete juvenile skeleton has provided unique insights into the dinosaur’s growth and development.
  4. This is one of the most frequently found dinosaurs in the Morrison Formation, a sequence of sedimentary rock from the Late Jurassic period.
  5. The hollow chambers in the vertebrae could have housed air sacs, potentially aiding in respiration and temperature regulation.

Contemporary Dinosaurs

The Allosaurus, Apatosaurus, Brachiosaurus, and Brontosaurus all shared some part of their existance with the Camarasaurus. These fellow dinosaurs, some friend and some foe, played their parts between back-and-forth interactions that shaped their ecosystem.

Imagine, if you will, the Camarasaurus roaming alongside the Allosaurus, a dinosaur that was considerably smaller but still dangerous. This smaller contemporary was known for its agility and predatory nature and might have posed a threat to the younger or weaker members of the Camarasaurus herd. The interplay between these two species, one a gentle giant and the other a swift predator, would have been a fascinating spectacle of the survival instincts that ruled the prehistoric world.

In contrast, the Apatosaurus and the Brachiosaurus, both larger than the Camarasaurus, would have been less of a direct threat. These towering herbivores have coexisted relatively peacefully with the Camarasaurus despite competing for the same resources. Their sheer size and strength could have deterred predators in order to create a safer environment for our dinosaur to thrive in.

The Brontosaurus, another contemporary of similar size and diet, adds another layer to this prehistoric narrative. The interactions between these large herbivores included possible competition for food and territory and paint a picture of a vibrant and dynamic ecosystem. Through this exploration, we gain a deeper understanding of the Camarasaurus’s life and environment, a testament to the intricate and interconnected web of prehistoric life.

List of All Dinosaurs

We have created a list of all dinosaurs we have covered here, sorted across the seven main groups of dinosaurs. We also include information about their type of diet, (omnivore, herbivore or carnivore) and the time they lived.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does the name ‘Camarasaurus’ mean?

The name translates to ‘chambered lizard’, a reference to the hollow chambers found in its vertebrae.

When did this dinosaur live?

It lived during the Late Jurassic period.

 What did it eat?

It was an herbivore that ate a variety of plant life, including ferns, cycads, and conifers.

How did it move?

Like most sauropods, it would have moved about quadrupedally—on four legs.

Who discovered the first fossil?

Oramel William Lucas discovered the first fossil in 1877.


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

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