Erliansaurus: Unveiling the Beauty of the Late Cretaceous

Diving into the history of life, Erliansaurus stands as a testament to the diversity and complexity of dinosaurs in the Late Cretaceous Period. This herbivorous theropod comes from the enigmatic landscapes of what is now Inner Mongolia. It offers a fascinating glimpse into an era dominated by giants. With its unique blend of features, it not only captivates the imagination but also challenges our understanding of dinosaur evolution and ecology. As we embark on this journey through time, let’s explore the intricate details of this remarkable creature to shed light on its life and the world it inhabited.

Erliansaurus Key Facts

Meaning of nameErlian Lizard
Type SpeciesErliansaurus bellamanus
When it Lived83.5 to 70.6 MYA
PeriodLate Cretaceous
EpochMiddle Campanian to the top of the Late/Upper Campanian
Length8.5 to 13.1 feet
HeightApproximately 5.0 feet
Weight201.0 to 882.0 pounds
MobilityMoved on two legs
First Discovery1999 by team of Chinese paleontologists
Described by2002 by Xing Xu, X. H. Zhang, Paul C. Sereno and X. J. Zhao
HolotypeLH V0002
Location of first findSanhangobi, Inner Mongolia

Erliansaurus Origins, Taxonomy and Timeline

The name, translating to “Erlian Lizard,” is a nod to its discovery site near Erlian in Inner Mongolia. The meaning of the species name, bellamanus, is derived from Latin “bellus” meaning beautiful and “manus” meaning hand. This naming highlights the distinctive physical traits that set it apart from its contemporaries.

Belonging to the Therizinosaurid family, it stands out as a unique genus within the Theropod group. This classification places it among a fascinating lineage of dinosaurs that defied the typical carnivorous nature of their kin, opting instead for an herbivorous diet. There are no subspecies identified, making the type species Erliansaurus bellamanus the sole representative of its genus.

The timeline here stretches across the Middle to Late Campanian Epoch of the Late Cretaceous Period, dating back approximately 83.5 to 70.6 million years ago. This era marks a significant chapter in Earth’s history, a time when the continents were much as they are today but the planet’s climate and ecosystems were vastly different.

Discovery & Fossil Evidence

Skeleton mount of Erliansaurus, a Late Cretaceous theropod dinosaur. The exhibit displays the dinosaur's long neck, large claws, and feathered body structure, showcasing its unique physical features. Erliansaurus was a bipedal dinosaur that likely had herbivorous or omnivorous feeding habits.
Kabacchi, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The sands of time first revealed Erliansaurus to the modern world in 1999, within the rugged terrains of Sanhangobi in Inner Mongolia. This initial discovery was made by an unknown explorer and opened a new chapter in our understanding of dinosaur life in this region. The formal description of this dinosaur was provided by Xu Xing and his team in 2002. It was based on the holotype LH V0002, a remarkably preserved specimen that has offered invaluable insights into the dinosaur’s anatomy and lifestyle.

Subsequent excavations have yet to significantly expand the number of known specimens, making each find a precious window into the past. The fossils unearthed include bones and partial skeletons that have been pivotal in reconstructing the physical appearance and habits of this intriguing dinosaur.

Erliansaurus Size and Description

This fascinating member of the Therizinosaur family showcases a unique blend of physical characteristics that distinguish it from its contemporaries. As a bipedal herbivore, its anatomy was finely tuned for a life spent navigating the lush landscapes of the Late Cretaceous. The dinosaur’s relatively short neck vertebrae, compared to other Therizinosaurs, suggest a compact and robust neck structure that supported a head likely adapted for browsing vegetation at various heights. The preservation of its limbs, especially the left arm, reveals a creature equipped with enormous, sharply curved claws. These hint at a specialized mode of feeding or interaction with its environment.

Size and Weight of Type Species

Size comparison between the currently regarded members of the theropod family
PaleoNeolitic, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Erliansaurus was a small to medium-sized Therizinosaur, with adult sizes potentially exceeding those of its contemporaries like Neimongosaurus. This is due to the indication of an unfused caudal vertebra suggesting juvenile status in the holotype specimen. The estimated length of this dinosaur ranged from 8.5 to 13.1 feet, with a weight approximation between 201.0 to 882.0 pounds. Such dimensions place Erliansaurus in a fascinating niche, size-wise, within the theropod family. 

Interesting Points about Erliansaurus

The Erliansaurus in its Natural Habitat

This herbivorous dinosaur roamed the ancient landscapes of what is now Inner Mongolia, an area that was marked by a diverse ecosystem in the Late Cretaceous. The climate was warmer than today’s standards and supported a rich variety of plant life. This vegetation, from towering conifers to lush ferns, provided ample food for an herbivore like this. This dinosaur’s adaptations suggest a life spent browsing on low-lying vegetation.

Contemporary Dinosaurs

Among the Asian dinosaurs living alongside Erliansaurus was Bactrosaurus, slightly larger and bulkier. This herbivore might have been a common sight, grazing on lower vegetation. The interactions between Erliansaurus and Bactrosaurus could have been tense as they competed for the same resources. 

Then there was Gilmoreosaurus. Another herbivore, but with a lifestyle that might have led it to different feeding grounds, it may have avoided direct competition with Erliansaurus for resources. However, Gilmoreosaurus, being roughly the same size as Erliansaurus, could have presented a formidable challenge if cornered. This balance ensured that no single species dominated the landscape and allowed for a diverse array of creatures to flourish.

Among the fleet-footed of these creatures was Linheraptor, a smaller but agile Theropod. It may have hunted small and juvenile herbivores such as Erliansaurus and Gilmoreosaurus. Meanwhile, giants like Huabeisaurus towered over the rest while the smaller, nimble Machairasaurus navigated the underbrush. Erliansaurus, amidst this diversity, had to carve out a niche. This delicate balance of power, size, and speed among these contemporaries paints a vivid picture of life in an ancient world where Erliansaurus was but one of many characters in a dynamic prehistoric drama.

Frequently Asked Questions

What era did this dinosaur live in?

It lived during the Late Cretaceous Period–specifically from the Middle to Late Campanian Epoch.

What did this dinosaur eat?

It was an herbivore, feeding on the diverse plant life of its time.

How was this dinosaur discovered?

The first fossils were found in 1999 in Inner Mongolia with a formal description provided in 2002.

What makes this dinosaur unique among Theropods?

Its herbivorous diet and the clawed structure of its hands set it apart from other theropods.

What does the name Erliansaurus mean?

The name translates to “Erlian Lizard” in honor of its place of discovery.


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 Erliansaurus. 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, 02-13-2024

Featured Image Credit: FunkMonk (Michael B. H.), CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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