Patagosaurus – Middle Jurassic Giant from Patagonia

Patagosaurus – Middle Jurassic Giant from Patagonia

Let’s embark on a journey back in time to the Middle Jurassic Period, where a fascinating creature roamed the ancient landscapes of what we now know as Argentina. Meet Patagosaurus: its name might not ring as many bells as the famous T-Rex but this gentle giant has a story worth telling. In a world vastly different from ours, these colossal beings were the rulers of their domain. This dinosaur’s intriguing name and mysterious past beckons us to explore its life and times.

Patagosaurus Key Facts

Meaning of namePatagonia lizard
Type SpeciesPatagosaurus fariasi
When it Lived180.1 to 175.6 MYA
PeriodMiddle Jurassic
EpochLate/Upper Toarcian to the top of the Middle Toarcian
Length49.0 to 54.0 feet
Height16.4 feet
Weight8.7 to 10.4 tons
MobilityMoved on all four
First Discovery1970’s by team of paleontologists
Location of first findCañadón Asfalto Formation, Argentina
First Described by1979 by José Bonaparte
HolotypePVL 4170

Patagosaurus Origins, Taxonomy and Timeline

The name Patagosaurus translates to “Patagonia lizard.” This is a nod to its discovery site in Patagonia, Argentina. This name combines a geographical reference with the Greek word ‘sauros,’ meaning lizard or reptile, which encapsulates the essence of this magnificent creature’s origin.

Discover the world of Patagosaurus, the Middle Jurassic Sauropod from Patagonia. Explore its origins, discovery, and life in a prehistoric world.

Belonging to the group of Sauropods, Patagosaurus falls under the family Cetiosauridae. This categorization places it within a lineage of long-necked, herbivorous dinosaurs that roamed the Earth during the Jurassic Period. It has only one species, the type species Patagosaurus fariasi. 

The Patagosaurus existed in a particularly fascinating time. It lived during the Middle Jurassic, specifically from the Late Toarcian to Middle Toarcian Epochs. This places its existence around 180 million years ago in a period marked by significant geological and climatic changes.

Discovery & Fossil Evidence

This tale of discovery is a testament to the meticulous nature of paleontological work. In the 1970s, a significant find occurred in a pebbly stratum near a route to Cerro Condor. Here, multiple specimens of a then-unknown dinosaur were unearthed. These specimens were clustered together in the same bed and locality. These findings were first brought to light by José Bonaparte in 1979, who established the genus Patagosaurus and its type species P. fariasi. The genus name reflects its Patagonian roots and reptilian nature, while the specific name honors Ricardo Farias, the landowner where this pivotal discovery was made.

Originally, this dinosaur was known from an almost complete postcranial skeleton that lacked a skull. It was designated as the holotype, along with numerous referred specimens. However, a breakthrough came in 2003 when a dentary was found and attributed to this species, suggesting that more specimens might belong to this taxon. 

Craniomandibular material from the Cañadón Asfalto Formation, with tooth morphotypes based on enamel wrinkling. a: MPEF-PV 1670; b: MACN-CH 933
Craniomandibular material from the Cañadón Asfalto Formation, with tooth morphotypes based on enamel wrinkling. a: MPEF-PV 1670; b: MACN-CH 933. Femke Holwerda, Diego Pol and Oliver Rauhut, CC BY 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

Intriguingly, its skeleton was discovered close to those of Piatnitzkysaurus and Volkheimeria in what were initially thought to be Callovian- to Oxfordian-aged deposits of the Cañadón Asfalto Formation. Recent advancements in zircon dating have shed new light on this and pinpointed the deposition of these bones to between 179.0 and 178.0 million years ago.

The fossil record of Patagosaurus is remarkably comprehensive, with over twelve specimens attributed to the species. These findings cover almost the entire skeleton, including parts of the skull. These provide an invaluable window into the anatomy and life of this Middle Jurassic giant.

Patagosaurus Size and Description

Imagine a creature of immense size, with a long neck and tail, moving gracefully on all four legs. This is Patagosaurus, a dinosaur whose physical characteristics set it apart from many others. Let’s take a closer look at these physical characteristics to understand this herbivore a little better.

Size and Weight of Type Species

Scale diagram comparing the side and above views of the eusauropodan Patagosaurus and a human.
Donald M. Henderson, derivative by I. Reid, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Estimates of this dinosaur’s size have varied slightly over the years. Initially, John McIntosh and colleagues in 1997 proposed a length of about 49.0 feet and a weight of 10.4 tons. Later estimates, including those by Holtz and a 2006 study by Donald Henderson, suggested a length of around 54.0 feet and a weight of approximately 8.7 tons. These figures paint a picture of a colossal creature, embodying the grandeur and might typical of sauropods.

The Dinosaur in Detail

This Sauropod exhibited a quintessential dinosaurian blueprint: quadrupedal stance, an elongated neck, a small head, and a remarkably lengthy tail. This configuration aligns closely with Cetiosaurus and other related dinosaurs. When it comes to its skull, our knowledge is somewhat limited. However, a few jawbones shed light on its facial structure. These remains suggest an adult or subadult Patagosaurus had a short, high, and broad snout. This characteristic is shared by many Sauropods.

Its teeth were similar to those of Euhelopus and Camarasaurus. They were concave on one side with notably expanded crowns. These teeth were equipped with small projections called marginal denticles and were replaced approximately every 58 days. This tooth replacement indicates a rapid dental turnover akin to other Sauropods.

Interesting Points about Patagosaurus

The Patagosaurus in its Natural Habitat

Envision a world where the Patagosaurus roamed freely. The environment was lush, with a climate that supported a diverse range of vegetation and South American dinosaurs. This herbivore’s diet consisted primarily of plants and its long neck allowed it to reach leaves and branches that were out of reach for other creatures.

In terms of social behavior, it’s possible that Patagosaurus lived in herds that offered protection and social interaction. The impact of such a large creature on its ecosystem was undoubtedly significant, possibly shaping the landscape through its feeding habits.

Contemporary Dinosaurs

In the South American world of the Jurassic Period, the Patagosaurus lumbered through the dense foliage. It was a gentle giant amidst a landscape teeming with life. This massive herbivore was easily the size of a school bus and navigated a world where size often dictated survival. Yeti wasn’t alone in this prehistoric tableau. It shared its world with a cast of contemporaries, each playing a unique role in the intricate dance of existence.

Take the Piatnitzkysaurus, for instance. This predator was roughly the size of a modern-day horse, but what it lacked in size, it made up for in agility and cunning. The towering height and hefty build of the Patagosaurus might have seemed an unlikely target for the Piatnitzkysaurus. However, young or injured members of the herd could have fallen prey to these swift hunters, adding a layer of drama to the daily life of our main dinosaur.

Not all contemporaries posed a threat, though. The Brohisaurus, another Sauropod, was roughly the same size as the Patagosaurus. These gentle giants likely coexisted peacefully and perhaps even shared grazing grounds. Their interactions may not have been as adrenaline-fueled as those with predators but they were crucial in maintaining the balance of their ecosystem.The Condorraptor, smaller than the Patagosaurus, might have scavenged what it could while wary of the larger dinosaur’s presence. In this ancient world, the Patagosaurus didn’t just exist; it was a central figure in a vibrant, dynamic ecosystem. Its interactions, whether competitive or cooperative, painted a vivid picture of life millions of years ago where every creature played a part in the grand story of survival.

Frequently Asked Questions

What era did Patagosaurus live in?

It lived during the Middle Jurassic Period, approximately 180.1 to 175.6 million years ago.

Where was the first fossil found?

The first fossil was discovered in the Cañadón Asfalto Formation in Argentina in 1979.

What type of dinosaur is Patagosaurus?

It is a Sauropod, specifically belonging to the family Cetiosauridae.

What did this dinosaur eat?

It was an herbivore, It probably used its long neck to feed on a variety of plants.

How did it move?

It moved on all four legs that supported its considerable size.

Who first described Patagosaurus?

José Bonaparte first described this dinosaur in 1979.


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 Patagosaurus. 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, 11-03-2023

Featured Image Credit: Smokeybjb, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons