Gastonia: A Nodosaurid Dinosaur from the Early Cretaceous

Welcome, fellow dinosaur enthusiasts! Today, we’re going to embark on a journey back in time, to the Early Cretaceous period where we’ll meet a fascinating creature known as Gastonia. This dinosaur, named after the paleontologist who discovered it, is a member of the Ankylosauria group and specifically the Nodosauridae family. Buckle up and get ready to delve into the world of this ancient herbivore.

Gastonia Key Facts

Gastonia pronunciationgas-TOH-nee-ah
Meaning of nameNamed after Robert Gaston
Type SpeciesGastonia burgei
When it Lived139.8 to 100.5 MYA
PeriodEarly Cretaceous
EpochValanginian to Albian
Length15.0 to 19.7 ft
Height3.3 to 4.0 ft
Weight1.0 to 2.0 tons
MobilityMoved on all four
First Discovery1988 by Robert Gaston
Location of first findGrand County, Eastern Utah
First Described by1998 by James Ian Kirkland
HolotypeCEUM 1307

Gastonia Origins, Taxonomy and Timeline

An illustration of Gastonia, a heavily armored quadrupedal herbivorous dinosaur from the Early Cretaceous period, characterized by its robust body and prominent spikes along its back. Gastonia, known for its defense against predators, is depicted with a grey and brown coloration and numerous protective osteoderms.

The name Gastonia is a tribute to Robert Gaston, the paleontologist who first discovered this dinosaur. The name is a testament to the significant contributions of Gaston to the field of paleontology and it’s a name that has since become synonymous with this fascinating creature.

In terms of taxonomy, this dinosaur belongs to the Ankylosauria group, a collection of armored dinosaurs known for their distinctive body structures. Within this group, Gastonia is a member of the Nodosauridae family. This lineage of dinosaurs is characterized by their heavy armor and spiked protrusions. The type species of this genus is Gastonia burgei and a second species was later discovered, Gastonia lorriemcwhinneyae. 

The timeline is set in the Early Cretaceous period, specifically from the Valanginian to Albian epochs. This places Gastonia’s existence in a time when dinosaurs were the dominant terrestrial vertebrates.

Listen to Pronunciation

Discovery & Fossil Evidence

This story of discovery begins in 1988, in Grand County, Eastern Utah. It was here that Robert Gaston, the dinosaur’s namesake, first unearthed the fossils of this prehistoric creature. The discovery was a significant contribution to our understanding of the Nodosauridae family and the Ankylosauria group as a whole.

A fossilized skeleton of Gastonia, a quadrupedal herbivorous dinosaur from the Early Cretaceous period, displayed in a museum setting. The Gastonia fossil showcases its characteristic armored plates and prominent spikes, which served as protection against predators.
Greg Goebel from Loveland CO, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The fossils were first described in detail in 1998 by James Ian Kirkland, a renowned paleontologist. The holotype, designated as CEUM 1307, provided valuable insights into the physical characteristics and lifestyle of Gastonia. The fossil evidence revealed a dinosaur with a heavily armored body–a characteristic feature of the Nodosauridae family.

While the initial discovery was significant, subsequent finds have further enriched our understanding of this dinosaur. These additional fossils have helped to paint a more complete picture and reveal details about its size, diet, and behavior.

Gastonia Size and Description

Before we delve into the specifics of size and physical characteristics, let’s take a moment to appreciate the unique features that set this dinosaur apart. This was a creature of the Early Cretaceous, a time of significant evolutionary diversification among dinosaurs. As a member of the Nodosauridae family, Gastonia was a heavily armored dinosaur equipped with a body structure designed for survival.

Short description of Gastonia

This was a quadrupedal dinosaur, moving on all four limbs. Its body was heavily armored and had a robust structure designed to withstand the challenges of its environment. The dinosaur’s head was small in comparison to its body, with a short neck supporting it. Its vertebrae were fused to provide additional strength and stability. Its limbs were stout and powerful, designed for slow but steady movement. The tail itself was a formidable weapon lined with sharp spikes for defense. The dinosaur’s skin was covered in osteoderms–bony deposits that formed a protective armor.

Size and Weight of Type Species

A size comparison chart of Gastonia burgei, showing the dinosaur's length of approximately 3 meters compared to an average human. Gastonia burgei was a herbivorous, quadrupedal dinosaur known for its distinctive armored plates and spikes, which provided protection against predators.
Slate Weasel, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The size is still a subject of ongoing research with different estimates provided by various sources. Based on the available fossil evidence, it is believed that Gastonia was a medium-sized dinosaur. The length is estimated to be around 15.0 to 19.7 feet, with a height of approximately 3.3 to 4.0 feet. The weight is harder to determine but it is generally believed to have been in the range of 1 to 2 tons.

The Dinosaur in Detail

Notable specimens have contributed significantly to our understanding of this dinosaur. One such specimen is the holotype. This showed a dinosaur like no other, with unique features that set it apart from its contemporaries. One of the most distinctive characteristics was its heavy armor, a feature that was common among members of the Nodosauridae family. This armor was made up of osteoderms, bony deposits that formed a protective layer over the dinosaur’s skin. These osteoderms varied in size and shape, some forming large plates and others developing into sharp spikes.

Another unique feature was its tail. Unlike many other dinosaurs, Gastonia’s tail was a formidable weapon lined with sharp spikes. These spikes, combined with the strength and flexibility of the tail, made it an effective tool for defense against predators.

The Gastonia in its Natural Habitat

A detailed illustration of Gastonia, a herbivorous, quadrupedal dinosaur from the Early Cretaceous period. This dinosaur is characterized by its heavy body armor, including numerous spikes and plates along its back and sides.
LadyofHats, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The world of the Gastonia was a vastly different place from the world we know today. The Early Cretaceous period was a time of significant geological and climatic changes. The continents were slowly drifting apart, creating new landforms and altering existing ones. North America was no exception; it was split into two paleocontinents at the time, Appalachia and Laramidia. The western continent Laramidia is where this dinosaur could be found. The climate was generally warm with no polar ice caps and the sea levels were high.

This was an herbivore that fed primarily on the vegetation of its time. The dinosaur’s diet likely consisted of ferns, cycads, and other low-growing plants. Its heavy armor and spiked tail suggest that it faced threats from predators, necessitating such formidable defenses.

Its social behavior is a subject of ongoing research. Some paleontologists believe that the Gastonia, like many other dinosaurs, lived in herds for protection. Others suggest that it was a solitary creature, relying on its heavy armor and spiked tail for defense.

Interesting Points about Gastonia

  1. This dinosaur was named after Robert Gaston, the paleontologist who first discovered it.
  2. It was heavily armored thanks to the many osteoderms covering its head and back and it was equipped with a spiked tail for defense.
  3. It lived during the Early Cretaceous period, a time of significant evolutionary diversification among dinosaurs.
  4. The holotype, designated as CEUM 1307, is one of the most well-preserved specimens of this dinosaur.
  5. This was a quadrupedal dinosaur that moved on all four limbs.


This heavily armored herbivore navigated its way through the lush, green landscapes of what is now North America. This dinosaur, roughly the size of a small car, was a formidable presence in its ecosystem. Its body was covered in a protective layer of bony plates and spikes–a clear sign that it was not a creature to be trifled with.

However, it was not alone in this world. Picture the Utahraptor, a predator larger than Gastonia, with its razor-sharp claws and teeth, always on the prowl for its next meal. The Gastonia was not an easy target despite being smaller. Its armor was a natural deterrent, making the Utahraptor think twice before engaging in a battle. On the other hand, the Cedarpelta, another herbivore, was roughly the same size as Gastonia. They likely competed for the same resources, but their coexistence was a testament to the abundance of vegetation in their shared habitat.

Then there was the Falcarius, a smaller dinosaur transitioning from a carnivorous to a herbivorous diet. It’s possible that Gastonia and Falcarius crossed paths but their interaction was likely minimal, given their different dietary preferences. Lastly, the Venenosaurus, another herbivore smaller than Gastonia, might have shared the same grazing grounds. The Gastonia’s size and armor gave it an advantage when resources were scarce.

In this vivid tapestry of prehistoric life, the Gastonia stands as a central figure in the survival strategies of herbivorous dinosaurs. Its interactions with its contemporaries, whether as potential prey for the Utahraptor or a competitor for resources with the Cedarpelta and Venenosaurus, highlight its resilience and adaptability. Through this lens, we gain a deeper understanding of its life and the unique ecosystem it was part of.

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 honors Robert Gaston, the paleontologist who first discovered this dinosaur.

What group does it belong to?

This dinosaur belongs to the Ankylosauria group, specifically the Nodosauridae family.

When did it live?

It lived during the Early Cretaceous period, specifically from the Valanginian to Albian epochs, which is between 139.8 and 100.5 million years ago.

What did this dinosaur eat?

It was an herbivore, feeding primarily on ferns, cycads, and other low-growing plants.

Where was it first discovered?

The first fossils were uncovered in Grand County, Eastern Utah.

What are some unique features of Gastonia?

It was heavily armored and had a spiked tail–both features that set it apart from many other dinosaurs.


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 the Gastonia. 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, 07-25-2023

Featured Image Credit: Conty, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons