Parasaurolophus: Crested Dinosaur from the Late Cretaceous

In the vast and diverse world of dinosaurs, the Parasaurolophus stands out with its distinctive crest. This fascinating creature hails from the Late Cretaceous period and was an herbivore that roamed the lands that are now known as North America. Its unique physical attributes and the environment it thrived in offer a captivating glimpse into a time long past.

The Parasaurolophus and its elongated, backward-sweeping crest is a reminder of the incredible diversity and adaptability of life on Earth. This dinosaur, whose name means “near crested lizard,” is a symbol of the intricate interplay between evolution, survival, and the environment. As we delve into the world of this dinosaur, we are not just exploring a single species but a complex tapestry of life that existed millions of years ago.

Parasaurolophus Key Facts

Parasaurolophus pronunciationPa-ra-saw-ROL-off-us
Meaning of nameNear crested lizard
Type SpeciesParasaurolophus walkeri
Period & TimeLate Cretaceous
EpochLate/Upper Campanian
Length37.6 ft
Height16.1 ft
Weight2.7 tons
MobilityMoved on two legs
First Discovery1920 by University of Toronto Expedition
Location of first findAlberta, Canada
First Described by1922 by William Arthur Parks
HolotypeROM 768

Parasaurolophus Origins, Taxonomy and Timeline

Parasaurolophus was a unique crested dinosaur that roamed the earth during the Late Cretaceous. Discover its origins, key facts, and its environment.

The name Parasaurolophus is a fascinating blend of Greek words that aptly describe this unique dinosaur. The term ‘para’ translates to ‘near’ or ‘beside’, ‘sauros’ means ‘lizard’ or ‘reptile’, and ‘lophos’ signifies ‘crest’. Put together, the name essentially means ‘near crested lizard’–a nod to its close resemblance to the dinosaur Saurolophus. This name paints a vivid picture of the dinosaur’s most distinctive feature–its crest–and places it within the broader context of dinosaur taxonomy.

In terms of taxonomy, it belongs to the group Ornithopoda–a clade of herbivorous dinosaurs known for their bird-like stance. Within this group it’s part of the family Hadrosauridae, also known as the duck-billed dinosaurs, and the subfamily Lambeosaurinae. The Parasaurolophus genus includes three recognized species: Parasaurolophus cyrtocristatus, Parasaurolophus tubicen, and Parasaurolophus walkeri. 

The timeline of this dinosaur takes us back to the Late Cretaceous period, specifically the Late Campanian epoch. The Parasaurolophus, with its distinctive crest and herbivorous diet, was a part of the vibrant ecosystem of this time and contributed to the rich tapestry of life during this period.

Listen to Pronunciation

To get a better sense of how to pronounce Parasaurolophus, you can listen to the pronunciation here.

Discovery & Fossil Evidence

Parasaurolophus skeleton
Lisa Andres from Riverside, USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The first discovery dates back to 1920 in Alberta, Canada. William Parks in 1922 named the Parasaurolophus walkeri type species in honor of Sir Byron Edmund Walker, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Royal Ontario Museum. The specimen he described, ROM 768, served as the holotype–the standard by which all future discoveries of Parasaurolophus would be compared.

Since that initial discovery, further Parasaurolophus fossils have been found in other regions of North America including New Mexico and Utah. These additional finds have helped to broaden our understanding of this dinosaur’s geographical range and its variations across different regions.

The fossils of this genus include bones and impressions of skin that provide a wealth of information about this dinosaur’s physical characteristics and lifestyle. The well-preserved state of many of these fossils has allowed scientists to piece together a detailed picture of this dinosaur, from its distinctive crest to its herbivorous diet. Each new discovery adds another piece to the puzzle and enriches our understanding of the Parasaurolophus and the world it inhabited.

Parasaurolophus Size and Description

This is a dinosaur that captures the imagination with its unique physical attributes. Its most distinctive feature is, of course, its elongated, backward-sweeping crest. But there’s much more to this dinosaur than just its crest. Let’s take a closer look at its physical characteristics and size.

Short description of Parasaurolophus

It was a bipedal dinosaur, meaning it moved primarily on its two hind legs. Its body was built for robustness with a sturdy skeleton that supported its large size. Its most striking feature, the crest, was a hollow structure that extended from the back of its head. This crest was made up of the premaxilla and nasal bones of the skull and contained distinct tubes that connected the nostrils to the end of the crest. The tubes were simplest in P. walkeri and more complex in P. tubicen, with some tubes being blind and others meeting and separating.

Size and Measurements

Parasaurolophus size
Slate Weasel, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

This was a large dinosaur with the length of the type specimen of P. walkeri estimated at 37.6 feet, and its body mass estimated at 2.72 tons. Its skull was about 5 feet 3 inches long when including the crest. The type skull of P. tubicen was over 2 meters (6 feet 7 inches) long, indicating a larger animal. Its single known forelimb was relatively short for a hadrosaurid, with a short but wide shoulder blade. The thigh bone measures 41 inches long in P. walkeri and is robust for its length when compared to other hadrosaurids. The upper arm and pelvic bones were also heavily built.

Like other hadrosaurids, Parasaurolophus was able to walk on either two legs or four. It probably preferred to forage for food on four legs but ran on two. The neural spines of the vertebrae were tall, as was common in lambeosaurines; they were tallest over the hips and increased the height of the back. Skin impressions are known for P. walkeri, showing uniform tubercle-like scales but no larger structures.

Parasaurolophus Games

If you want to test your knowledge about Parasaurolophus , here is a fun quiz you can play. Don’t worry if you don’t get all questions right, it is a learning opportunity! Have fun!

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Parasaurolophus in its Natural Habitat

This dinosaur lived in North America during the Late Cretaceous period, a time when the Earth was a very different place than it is today. Laramidia, the western half of North America at this time, was separated from the eastern half by an interior seaway. The climate there was warmer and sea levels were higher, resulting in a landscape dominated by vast inland seas and lush vegetation. This environment would have been ideal for an herbivore like Parasaurolophus, providing it with a plentiful supply of food.

As an herbivorous dinosaur, it would have feasted on the abundant plant life of its time. Its sophisticated skull structure allowed it to grind plant material much like modern-day herbivores. This ability and its large size would have made this dinosaur a noticeable presence in its environment.

It was likely a herd animal that moved in groups for protection and to locate food sources. Its large size and distinctive crest would have made it a standout presence in these herds and its potential ability to produce low-frequency sounds could have played a role in communication within the group. With its unique adaptations and lifestyle, this was a key player in the ecosystems of the Late Cretaceous period.

Contemporary Dinosaurs

This dinosaur shared the North American stage with a fascinating cast of Laramidian dinosaurs. Among these were the various herbivores Edmontosaurus, Hypacrosaurus, Pentaceratops, and Ankylosaurus.

The Edmontosaurus likely grazed alongside our main dinosaur. Their similar diets may have led to competition for resources, yet their coexistence suggests a balance was achieved. The Hypacrosaurus was smaller than the Parasaurolophus. This size difference might have allowed them to exploit different food sources, reducing competition and promoting a harmonious existence.

The Pentaceratops, with its large frill and multiple horns, presents a stark contrast to the Parasaurolophus. While both were herbivores, their differing physical characteristics suggest they occupied different niches within their shared environment. The Pentaceratops, with its formidable defenses, might have been less vulnerable to predators in contrast to the more vulnerable Parasaurolophus.

Lastly, the heavily armored Ankylosaurus adds another layer to this prehistoric picture. Its unique defenses could have deterred predators that posed a threat to the Parasaurolophus, indirectly benefiting our main dinosaur. In this way, the Ankylosaurus’s presence might have shaped the experiences of the Parasaurolophus, illustrating the interconnectedness of their world.

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 is derived from Greek words and means ‘near crested lizard’, a reference to its distinctive crest and its resemblance to the dinosaur Saurolophus.

When did this dinosaur live?

It lived during the Late Cretaceous period, specifically the Late Campanian epoch, from approximately 83.5 to 70.6 million years ago.

What did it eat?

As an herbivore, it ate plants. Its skull structure allowed it to grind plant material much like modern-day herbivores.

How were the first fossils discovered?

The first fossil was discovered in 1920 in Alberta, Canada, by the University of Toronto Expedition.

What is the most distinctive feature of this dinosaur?

The most distinctive feature is its elongated, backward-sweeping crest, which was likely used for communication and may have had other functions as well.


Article last fact checked: Joey Arboleda,06-08-2023

Featred Image Credit: Ryanz720, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons