Lambeosaurus: Unveiling the Secrets of a Late Cretaceous Herbivore

Lambeosaurus: Unveiling the Secrets of a Late Cretaceous Herbivore

Lambeosaurus, meaning “Lambe’s Lizard,” pays homage to Lawrence Lambe, the paleontologist who first described the species. It belongs to the Ornithopod group and the Hadrosaurid family. Its diet, purely herbivorous, reflects the rich vegetation of its time. Living between 83.5 and 72.1 million years ago (MYA), this dinosaur witnessed significant changes in the Earth’s landscapes and ecosystems.

Lambeosaurus Key Facts

Meaning of nameLambe’s Lizard
Type SpeciesLambeosaurus lambei (syn. Tetragonosaurus praeceps)
Other SpeciesDidanodon altidens, Lambeosaurus clavinitialis (syn. Corythosaurus frontalis), Lambeosaurus magnicristatus
When it Lived83.5 to 72.1 MYA
PeriodLate Cretaceous
EpochLate/Upper Campanian to the top of the Campanian
Length23.0 to 25.0 feet
HeightApproximately 7.0 feet
Weight2.8 to 3.6 tons
MobilityMoved on two legs
First Discovery1910 by several Paleontologists
Described by1902 by Lawrence Lambe
HolotypeGSC 419
Location of first findDinosaur Park Formation, Alberta

Lambeosaurus Origins, Taxonomy and Timeline

This herbivorous dinosaur is a captivating relic of the Late Cretaceous Period that offers a window into the evolutionary intricacies of the dinosaur era. It is named in honor of Lawrence Lambe, with a name that combines ‘Lambe’ with ‘sauros,’ the Greek word for lizard or reptile. 

In the grand scheme of dinosaur taxonomy, Lambeosaurus is categorized within the Ornithopod group under the Hadrosaurid family. This classification underscores its evolutionary lineage and relationship with other similar dinosaurs.

This illustration portrays a Lambeosaurus, a genus of hadrosaurid dinosaur known for its distinctive cranial crest. The dinosaur is depicted in a side profile, showcasing its robust, bipedal body with a long tail and an elaborate, backward-curving crest on its head. The skin texture is detailed, with subtle shading to indicate muscle structure and a realistic, dappled pattern across its body.

Tracing its existence back to the Late Cretaceous Period, specifically from the Late Campanian to the Campanian Epoch, it lived approximately between 83.5 and 72.1 million years ago. This era was a time of significant environmental and ecological changes, providing the backdrop for the evolution and life of Lambeosaurus.

Discovery & Fossil Evidence

Our story begins in 1902 with Lawrence Lambe, who initially named hadrosaurid limb material and bones from Alberta as Trachodon marginatus. This early classification soon encountered complexities. Henry Fairfield Osborn suggested these could belong to a new genus, “Didanodon,” a notion that didn’t gain much traction.

Adding to the complexity of Lambeosaurus’ history is its subspecies, L. magnicristatus, identified by C.M. Sternberg in 1935. Known from only two skull specimens, this subspecies is a crucial piece of the Lambeosaurus puzzle. Unfortunately, much of the articulated skeleton of the type specimen of L. magnicristatus has been lost, leaving gaps in our full understanding of this particular subspecies. Despite this, the discovery of L. magnicristatus offers valuable insights into the diversity and adaptability within the Lambeosaurus genus.

Taxonomic Complications

In the 1910s, better-preserved Hadrosaurid remains emerged from Alberta’s Dinosaur Park Formation. Lambe reassessed his finds and coined the genus Stephanosaurus for the species in 1914. However, the connection between these skulls and the earlier material was not solid. In 1923, William Parks introduced Lambeosaurus lambei, honoring Lambe 4 years after his death, and established it as the type genus of the new subfamily Lambeosaurinae.

The plot thickens with the discovery of juvenile Lambeosaurus remains, initially mistaken as adult remains of a distinct lineage of Cheneosaurinae. In 1920, William Diller Matthew briefly mentioned a skeleton as Procheneosaurus, a name later contested by Parks who proposed Tetragonosaurus with two species. Charles M. Sternberg added another species in 1935. However, the International Commission of Zoological Nomenclature ultimately favored Procheneosaurus. By 1942, several species were tentatively transferred to Procheneosaurus, a classification generally accepted until 1975.

Peter Dodson then questioned the plethora of Lambeosaurine species in a confined geological and geographical scope. His morphometric study suggested that many species were actually juveniles or different sexes of Lambeosaurus. He proposed that L. clavinitialis was likely the female of L. lambei, with Corythosaurus frontalis and Procheneosaurus praeceps as its juveniles. L. magnicristatus, however, was distinct enough to be its own species. This model simplified the Lambeosaurus lineage and is widely accepted today, recognizing primarily two species with a third occasionally acknowledged.

Lambeosaurus Size and Description

This dinosaur is easily recognized by its most distinctive feature–its crest. The many shapes and sizes of Lambeosaurus once had paleontologists believing it was several more species than it truly is. Let’s take a closer look at its variability as well as what features make it unique in the world of dinosaurs.

Size and Weight of Type Species

This image depicts a size comparison chart of Lambeosaurus against a human figure, illustrating the massive scale of this Cretaceous period dinosaur. The Lambeosaurus, known for its distinctive crest, is shown in green, with clear measurements indicating its length and height.
Dinoguy2, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In terms of size, adult Lambeosaurus specimens were formidable creatures. They have been estimated to reach lengths of approximately 23.0 to 25.0 feet and weigh between 2.8 to 3.6 tons. This size places them among the larger members of the Hadrosaurid family. These conclusions were reached by Gregory Paul in 2016. 

The Dinosaur in Detail

One of the most striking features of Lambeosaurus is its unique crest, differing significantly between the two well-known species, L. lambei and L. magnicristatus. In L. lambei, the crest resembled a hatchet with a forward-projecting “blade” and a solid bony “handle” extending over the skull’s back. This crest, evolving into its full form as the dinosaur approached adulthood, consisted of a thin upper “coxcomb” and a lower portion housing the nasal passages. In contrast, L. magnicristatus boasted a more exaggerated, pompadour-like crest, with a reduced “handle” and an expanded “blade.”

Beyond the crest, Lambeosaurus shared common Hadrosaurid traits. It could move on both two legs and all fours. This movement was supported by a long, stiff tail and hands equipped for support and manipulation. The footprints of related species suggest a versatile locomotion, capable of both bipedal and quadrupedal movement. Its four-fingered hands had the three inner fingers grouped together. These fingers had hoof-like ends and were used mostly for support during locomotion. The last finger could move freely and could be used for manipulation.

Fossil impressions of its skin have been found that show it was covered in uniform, polygonal scutes. These scutes were distributed randomly across the neck, torso, and tail, and provide a glimpse into the texture and protective features of its skin. Similar scalation patterns have been observed in both L. lambei and L. magnicristatus, indicating a shared characteristic within the genus.

Interesting Points about Lambeosaurus

Lambeosaurus in its Natural Habitat

This North American dinosaur thrived in a world vastly different from ours. The Late Cretaceous Period was characterized by diverse and lush vegetation, providing ample food for this herbivore. The climate was likely warmer with varied geographical features shaping its habitat as the Cretaceous Interior Seaway closed and North America began to resemble the continent we know today.

As an herbivore, this dinosaur played a crucial role in its ecosystem. Its diet consisted of the abundant plant life of its time and its locomotion suggests it could traverse various terrains. Its beak could crop plants low to the ground. Standing on its back two legs, it would have been able to reach for higher vegetation using its forefeet or beak. It was able to feed up to 13 feet off the ground.

 Whether it was a solitary creature or moved in herds remains a topic of interest, potentially offering insights into its survival strategies. Its impact on its environment could have been significant. As a large herbivore, it likely influenced the vegetation patterns and possibly the overall landscape. Understanding its role in the ecosystem provides a window into the dynamics of the Late Cretaceous Period.

Contemporary Dinosaurs

Lambeosaurus, a great duck-billed dinosaur, roamed what is today Canada’s western province of Alberta. This gentle giant, with its striking crest, would be ambling through the ancient forests. Its life was a constant dance of competition with fascinating contemporaries. Among them was Parasaurolophus, another crested charmer, slightly smaller but just as impressive. These two possibly munched on the same ferns and conifers and might have shared a friendly, if somewhat competitive, relationship over the best salad bars nature had to offer.

This detailed illustration shows a dramatic scene from the Cretaceous period where a Gorgosaurus is seen chasing a herd of Lambeosaurus lambei through a lush, prehistoric forest. The Gorgosaurus, with its fierce expression and powerful build, contrasts with the more graceful and crest-bearing Lambeosaurus as they flee through a shallow water body.
ABelov2014, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Enter Hypacrosaurus, roughly the same size but perhaps a bit more robust. These two could have been rivals that fought for territory. Imagine the thunderous sound of their heavy feet as they moved through the forest, a prehistoric drama unfolding with each step.

Not all neighbors were competitors, though. Take Hadrosaurus, a smaller cousin in the Hadrosaur family. This smaller, less ornate dinosaur likely looked up to Lambeosaurus, both figuratively and literally. They could have moved in herds–a prehistoric example of safety in numbers when predators lurked nearby.

Ankylosaurus presented a stark contrast to our Lambeosaurus. This tank-like dinosaur was armored and sported a massive club tail. While Lambeosaurus used its size and speed for defense, Ankylosaurus was a walking fortress. Their interactions, though not aggressive, must have been like a meeting of two different philosophies of survival – speed and agility versus brute strength and armor.

This mixture of similar relatives and radically different dinosaurs showcases the diversity of the landscape and Lambeosaurus’ adaptability and versatility. It is not easy for a dinosaur to compete with so many species living a similar lifestyle, but Lambeosaurus was able to persist nonetheless.

Frequently Asked Questions

What era did this dinosaur live in?

It lived during the Late Cretaceous Period approximately 83.5 to 72.1 million years ago.

What type of diet did it have?

Lambeosaurus was an herbivore, feeding on the lush vegetation of its time. Its great size allowed it to feed up to 13 feet off the ground.

How did this dinosaur move?

It was capable of moving around on both two legs or four legs. It forefeet were adapted to both supporting its weight and manipulating objects.

What is the significance of its name?

The name “Lambeosaurus” honors Lawrence Lambe, the paleontologist who first described the species.

Where was the first fossil of this species found?

The first fossil was discovered in the Dinosaur Park Formation in Alberta in 1910.

What are the debates surrounding this dinosaur?

Debates often focus on its exact size and weight, as well as the function of its potential head crest.


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 Lambeosaurus. 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, 12-07-2023

Featured Image Credit: Connor Ashbridge, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons