Corythosaurus: Crested Dinosaur from the Late Cretaceous

In the vast and diverse world of dinosaurs, Corythosaurus holds a unique place. Recognized by its distinctive crest, this dinosaur roamed the Earth during the Late Cretaceous period and left behind a rich fossil record that continues to intrigue paleontologists today. 

The name of this curious dinosaur translates to ‘helmet lizard’ due to its unique crest. It serves as a testament to the remarkable diversity and adaptability of life during the age of dinosaurs. Dive into its world below to learn more about its lifestyle and behavior.

Corythosaurus Key Facts

KeywordFact
Corythosaurus pronunciationkoh-RITH-oh-SAWR-us
Meaning of nameHelmet lizard
GroupOrnithopod
Type SpeciesCorythosaurus casuarius
DietHerbivore
When it Lived83.5 to 72.1 MYA
PeriodLate Cretaceous
EpochLate/Upper Campanian to Campanian
Length33.0 ft
Height15.0 ft at hips
Weight4.0 to 5.0 tons
MobilityMoved on two legs
First Discovery1912 by Barnum Brown
Location of first findAlberta, Canada
First Described by1914 by Barnum Brown
HolotypeAMNH 5240

Corythosaurus Origins: Taxonomy, Timeline, and Discovery

An illustration depicting two Corythosaurus dinosaurs, one standing on land and the other partially submerged in water, using its duck-bill-like mouth to snorkel. The standing dinosaur is upright on its hind legs, showing the characteristic crest on its head.

The Corythosaurus, or ‘helmet lizard’, gets its name from the Greek words ‘korythos’ meaning helmet and ‘sauros’ meaning lizard. This name is a nod to the dinosaur’s distinctive crest that resembles the helmets worn by ancient Greek warriors. 

It belongs to the Ornithopoda, or ‘bird-footed’ dinosaurs–a group known for their bird-like stance and herbivorous diet. Within this group, Corythosaurus is a member of the Hadrosauridae family and specifically the Lambeosaurinae subfamily, which is characterized by their hollow crests.

The Corythosaurus lived during the Late Cretaceous period. This was a time when dinosaurs were the dominant terrestrial vertebrates, and the Earth was warm and tropical. The Late Cretaceous period was also the last chapter of the Mesozoic Era, often referred to as the ‘Age of Dinosaurs’.

The first fossil was discovered in 1912 in Alberta, Canada by Barnum Brown, a renowned American paleontologist. The fossil was described by Lawrence Lambe in 1914, hence the dinosaur’s inclusion in the Lambeosaurinae subfamily. This discovery marked a significant contribution to our understanding of hadrosaurids and their diversity.

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Fossil Evidence

The first fossil was found in the Red Deer River region of Alberta, Canada–a location known for its rich dinosaur fossil record. This initial discovery was made by Barnum Brown in 1912 and since then numerous other Corythosaurus fossils have been unearthed in the region. These fossils include a variety of specimens, from nearly complete skeletons to isolated bones that all provide a comprehensive view of the dinosaur’s anatomy.

A photograph of a Corythosaurus skeleton exhibit displayed in a museum setting. The skeleton is mounted in a dynamic pose, showing the dinosaur in a quadrupedal stance with its head lowered, revealing the iconic crest on its skull. The long tail and intricate rib structure are clearly visible.
James Tiffin Jr., CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The fossils are particularly well-preserved, with some specimens even retaining impressions of the dinosaur’s skin. This level of preservation has allowed paleontologists to study the dinosaur’s physical characteristics in detail and reveal insights about its lifestyle and behavior.

In addition to the initial find in Alberta, fossils have also been discovered in other parts of Canada and the United States, specifically Montana. These additional finds have further expanded our understanding of the Corythosaurus and provided a broader picture of its geographical range during the Late Cretaceous period.

Corythosaurus Size and Description

This is a fascinating dinosaur known for its unique physical characteristics and behavior. Let’s delve into the details of its size, appearance, and lifestyle.

Short description of Corythosaurus

It is a large dinosaur characterized by its distinctive crest and bird-like stance. Its body is streamlined with a long, slender neck and a tail that balances its body when it moves. The dinosaur’s head is adorned with a hollow, helmet-like crest that is believed to have played a role in communication and possibly thermoregulation. Its limbs are robust, with the hind limbs being longer than the forelimbs, suggesting that it was primarily bipedal. The dinosaur’s skin is believed to have been covered in scales similar to modern reptiles.

Size and Weight of Type Species

A size comparison chart featuring the type species Corythosaurus casuarius (in red) and Corythosaurus intermedius (in yellow) alongside a human figure for scale. The chart demonstrates the significant size of both dinosaur species, with each Corythosaurus shown in a quadrupedal stance.
Slate Weasel, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Corythosaurus is a large dinosaur, with estimates suggesting a length of about 33 feet and a height of around 15 feet at the hips. However, these estimates can vary based on the individual specimen and the method used for the calculation. The weight is harder to determine but it’s generally believed to have weighed around 4-5 tons. These estimates give us a glimpse of the impressive size of this dinosaur and highlight its stature among the fauna of the Late Cretaceous period.

The Dinosaur in Detail

The Corythosaurus is a remarkable dinosaur, not just for its size but also for its unique features and adaptations. One of the most distinctive features of the Corythosaurus is its helmet-like crest. This crest is hollow and connected to the nasal passages which suggests that it may have been used for communication, possibly producing low-frequency sounds. This feature sets it apart from many other dinosaurs and reflects its adaptability and survival instincts.

Another notable aspect of this dinosaur is its teeth. It had a dental battery consisting of hundreds of tightly packed teeth that were continually replaced as they wore out. This adaptation allowed it to efficiently process its herbivorous diet, which likely included a variety of plants prevalent during the Late Cretaceous period.

It also exhibits a degree of sexual dimorphism, with males believed to have larger and more elaborate crests than females. This suggests that, like many modern animals, the Corythosaurus may have used visual signals in mate selection–further highlighting the complexity of its behavior and social structure.

The Corythosaurus in its Natural Habitat

An artistic depiction of a prehistoric forest scene showing a group of Corythosaurus dinosaurs being chased by a Gorgosaurus. The Corythosaurus, characterized by their distinct crests, are depicted in shades of pink and red as they flee across a rocky stream. The Gorgosaurus, a predatory theropod, is shown in pursuit, its mouth open in a threatening manner.
ABelov2014, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This herbivore lived in a world vastly different from our own. North America in the Cretaceous was separated into two paleocontinents–Laramidia to the west and Appalachia to the east. As a Laramidian dinosaur, the Corythosaurus inhabited a world that was warm and tropical, with lush vegetation and diverse fauna. It is likely that it had a diet rich in fibrous vegetation due to continually wearing down and replacing hundreds of tightly packed teeth. This process would have allowed it to process large amounts of tough vegetation.

The Corythosaurus was primarily bipedal and moved on its hind limbs. This mode of locomotion, combined with its size and potential speed, may have played a role in its interactions with other dinosaurs by possibly influencing its predator-prey relationships. As an herbivorous dinosaur, it likely played a significant role in shaping the vegetation of its environment and contributing to the ecosystem dynamics of the Late Cretaceous period.

Its social behavior is not well understood but some evidence suggests that it may have been a herd animal. This behavior could have had implications for its life expectancy, with herd living potentially offering protection from predators. The dinosaur’s distinctive crest may have also played a role in its social interactions by possibly being used for communication within the herd. All these factors paint a picture of a dinosaur that was well adapted to its environment and played a significant role in the ecosystems of the Late Cretaceous period.

Interesting Points about Corythosaurus

  1. It is known for its distinctive crest that may have been used for communication and possibly thermoregulation.
  2. The dinosaur’s teeth were continually replaced as they wore out, which allowed it to efficiently process its herbivorous diet.
  3. It exhibits a degree of sexual dimorphism with males having larger and more elaborate crests than females.
  4. The dinosaur’s fossils are particularly well-preserved and some specimens even retained impressions of the skin.
  5. In addition to the initial find in Alberta, Corythosaurus fossils have been discovered in other parts of Canada and the United States.

Contemporary Dinosaurs

In the vast expanse of prehistoric time, this creature of notable distinction shared its world with a captivating array of contemporaries. Among these were the Parasaurolophus, Tyrannosaurus, Triceratops, and Ankylosaurus. Each of these dinosaurs contributed to the intricate dynamics of the Late Cretaceous in western North America.

The Parasaurolophus was a fellow herbivore and similar in many ways to the Corythosaurus. Both adorned with impressive crests, they likely grazed side by side and painted a serene picture of prehistoric life with their harmonious coexistence. Beneath this tranquility, a subtle competition may have existed through a silent contest for the most lush and nutritious vegetation.

On the other hand, the Triceratops and Ankylosaurus were both heavily armored and represent the other end of the spectrum. Despite their diversities, it’s likely these dinosaurs would have occupied the same niche and provided more competition for our dinosaur. These herbivores, with their formidable defenses, would have been a challenging target even for the mightiest of predators at the time.

Enter the Tyrannosaurus–a stark contrast to our Corythosaurus. This colossal carnivore’s formidable size and fearsome reputation might have posed a significant threat. The Corythosaurus would have been dwarfed by this apex predator. This potential predator-prey relationship adds a layer of tension and drama to the narrative of their coexistence.Their presence in the same environment suggests a landscape punctuated by moments of intense confrontation, further emphasizing the Corythosaurus’s need for vigilance and agility in this diverse and dynamic ecosystem.

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 mean?

The name translates to ‘helmet lizard’, a nod to its distinctive crest that resembles a helmet.

When did Corythosaurus live?

It lived during the Late Cretaceous period in western North America.

What did it eat?

This was a herbivore that fed on a variety of plants prevalent during the Late Cretaceous period. It is likely that its diet focused on tough, fibrous vegetation.

Where were the fossils found?

Fossils have been found in Alberta, Canada and Montana, United States so far.

What is unique about this dinosaur?

It is known for its distinctive crest, which is believed to have been used for communication and possibly thermoregulation. It also had a dental battery consisting of hundreds of tightly packed teeth that allowed it to efficiently process its herbivorous diet.

How big was it?

This was a large dinosaur, with estimates suggesting a length of about 33 feet and a height of around 15 feet at the hips. It’s generally believed to have weighed around 4-5 tons.

Sources

This article was last fact checked:Joey Arboleda, 06-11-2023

Featured Image Credit: Richard Beckert, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons