Psittacosaurus

Psittacosaurus is a genus of ceratopsian dinosaurs from the Early Cretaceous Period of what is now Asia. The name means “parrot lizard“, and is derived from the Greek words psittakos, meaning “parrot“, and sauros, meaning “lizard“.

Key Facts

DomainDescription
Psittacosaurus pronunciationSIT-ak-oh-sore-us
What does Psittacosaurus mean?Parrot lizard
Dinosaur typeCeratopsian
On the menuHerbivorous
Length2 meters (7 feet)
Height0.6m (2 feet)
Weight50kg  (about 110 lbs)
Life expectancy10-11 years
Legs used to get aroundBiped
Estimated top speed10 km/h (6 mph)
When they livedEarly Cretaceous era 120-100 million years ago
Where they have been found?China, Mongolia, Russia

When & Where

The first Psittacosaurus fossil was recovered on the third expedition of the American Museum of Natural History to Mongolia’s Gobi Desert in 1922. The fossil was discovered in the Nemegt Formation, which is dated to the Early Cretaceous Period, between 120 and 100 million years ago.

Since then, fossils have also been found in China and Russia. In total, over 100 specimens have been found, making it one of the best-represented dinosaurs in the fossil record.

Psittacosaurus Size & Weight

Psittacosaurus was a small dinosaur in comparison to many dinosaurs. The largest specimens reached 7 feet (2 meters) in length and weighed around 110 pounds (50 kgs).

This small herbivore was only about the size of an antelope and had feathers on its tail. It had a beak and a crest on its head, which may have aided in communication or display. Psittacosaurus is one of the most well-represented dinosaurs in the fossil record, with over 100 specimens having been found. Almost every age group from hatchling to adult is represented, and several specimens have been found with preserved stomach contents.

The vast majority of Psittacosaurus fossils belong to juveniles or sub-adults. This is thought to be because juveniles were more likely to die in large numbers than adults. For example, many fossils have been found of juveniles that it is assumed died in flash floods.

Psittacosaurus is a member of the family Ceratopsidae, which has similar traits to the better-known Triceratops. It is one of the earliest ceratopsians and is thought to be closely related to the North American genus Xenoceratops. Psittacosaurus is also an important fossil for understanding the evolution of birds, as it shows that some dinosaurs had feathers much earlier than previously thought.

Mobility & Diet

Psittacosaurus was an herbivore, which means that it ate plants. It probably fed on ferns, horsetails, and other low-lying plants. To help in eating it had a beak and cheek teeth. It also had a peg-like tooth in the back of its mouth, which was used to crush tougher plant matter.

Some fossils of Psittacosaurus have been found with preserved stomach contents. These showed that the last meal eaten included ferns, horsetails, and other plants.

It was a biped, meaning that it could walk on two legs. Although it was not a fast runner, Psittacosaurus could move quickly when it needed to. It was estimated that its top speed was 10 km/h (6mph).

Interesting Points

  • In 2016, a team led by Jakob Vinther discovered the pigment melanin in the skin of a Psittacosaurus fossil. According to this discovery, the dinosaur may have had darker skin on top and lighter skin underneath to camouflage itself from predators.
  • There are 11 valid species of Psittacosaurus. The most well-known is Psittacosaurus mongoliensis, which was named by American paleontologist Henry Fairfield Osborn in 1924.
  • Psittacosaurus had a relatively long life expectancy of 10-11 years.

Featured Image Credit: Пётр Меньшиков, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons