Venenosaurus – Poison Lizard from the Early Cretaceous of Utah

Venenosaurus – Poison Lizard from the Early Cretaceous of Utah

Imagine a towering herbivore moving gracefully through the ancient landscapes of what is now Utah, intriguingly named the “Poison Lizard.” This is Venenosaurus, a remarkable Sauropod from the Early Cretaceous period. Its discovery has shed light on the diverse and fascinating world of Brachiosaurids. Unearthed relatively recently, this dinosaur continues to captivate paleontologists with its unique characteristics and the story of its discovery.

The tale of Venenosaurus began in the late 1990’s when a dedicated volunteer discovered its remains. Over the years, further research and analysis have provided valuable insights into this giant herbivore’s life and environment. Here we explore the origins, physical traits, and the ecosystem that Venenosaurus inhabited, painting a detailed picture of this extraordinary dinosaur.

Venenosaurus Key Facts

Meaning of namePoison Lizard
Type SpeciesVenenosaurus dicrocei
When it Lived125.0 to 113.0 MYA
PeriodEarly Cretaceous
Length39.0 ft
Height10.0 to 13.0 ft
Weight6.6 tons
MobilityMoved on four legs
First Discovery1998 by Anthony DiCroce
Described by2001 by Virginia Tidwell, Kenneth Carpenter and Susanne Meyer
HolotypeDMNS 40932
Location of first findCedar Mountain Formation, Utah

Venenosaurus Origins, Taxonomy and Timeline

The name Venenosaurus is derived from the Latin word “veneno,” meaning poison and the Greek word “sauros”, meaning lizard. This name is a nod to the Poison Strip Member of the Cedar Mountain Formation where its fossils were discovered rather than suggesting that the dinosaur itself was poisonous.

Venenosaurus Utah’s “Poison Lizard” from Early Cretaceous. Discover Venenosaurus, the Poison Lizard from the Early Cretaceous, known for its long neck and fascinating adaptations. Explore its world and history.

Taxonomically, it belongs to the group Sauropod within the family Brachiosauridae. The genus includes the type species Venenosaurus dicrocei, named in honor of the volunteer who first discovered the fossils. Brachiosaurids are known for their long necks and large size, adaptations that allowed them to reach high vegetation.

This herbivorous dinosaur lived during the Early Cretaceous Period approximately 125.0 to 113.0 million years ago. This period was characterized by significant evolutionary changes and the emergence of diverse dinosaur species. Venenosaurus thrived in this dynamic environment, showcasing the adaptability and success of Sauropods during this era.

Listen to Pronunciation

To listen to the correct pronunciation of this dino’s name, check out this video.

Discovery & Fossil Evidence

The first fossils were discovered in 1998 by Anthony DiCroce, a volunteer at the Denver Museum of Natural History. They were found in the Cedar Mountain Formation of Grand County, Utah. These remains included well-preserved skeletal elements that hinted at a new and significant dinosaur species.

In 2001, Venenosaurus was formally described by paleontologists Virginia Tidwell, Kenneth Carpenter, and Susanne Meyer. The holotype, cataloged as DMNS 40932, comprises parts of the vertebrae, limbs, and other skeletal fragments. The discovery of Venenosaurus has been instrumental in understanding the diversity of Sauropods in North America during the Early Cretaceous. The fossil evidence, though limited, includes bones that have allowed paleontologists to reconstruct its physical characteristics and hypothesize about its behavior and ecology.

Venenosaurus Size and Description

Short Description of Venenosaurus

This was a moderately-sized Sauropod that was built for stability and strength. It had long, column-like limbs that supported its massive frame. The dinosaur’s neck was relatively long and allowed it to reach high vegetation, while its tail was equally robust to provide balance and potentially serve as a defense mechanism against predators.

Size and Weight of Type Species

Venenosaurus size
Conty, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Estimates suggest that Venenosaurus weighed around 6.6 tons. Standing at 39.0 feet long and 10.0 to 13.0 feet tall at shoulder, it was a considerable presence in its environment. These measurements are based on the well-preserved fossils, particularly the vertebrae and limb bones that indicate a sturdy and robust build.

While different sources might provide slight variations in these estimates, the consensus remains that this was a sizable and powerful herbivore. Its weight and size would have required a significant daily intake of vegetation, influencing its feeding behavior and habitat range.

The Dinosaur in Detail

Venenosaurus possessed several unique features that set it apart from other Sauropods. Its long neck and tail were crucial for foraging and balance. The vertebrae were specially adapted to support its lengthy neck, allowing it to reach leaves and branches that other herbivores could not access.

The dinosaur’s limbs were particularly noteworthy. Strong and sturdy, they were well-suited for bearing its considerable weight. The structure of the limbs suggests that Venenosaurus could move steadily over long distances, an essential trait for an herbivore that needed to consume large amounts of vegetation daily. 

Notable specimens of Venenosaurus, such as the holotype DMNS 40932, have provided valuable insights into its anatomy and lifestyle. These fossils have enabled paleontologists to piece together its unique features and understand its place within the Brachiosaurid family. Many of its features resemble Brachiosaurus or its close relative, Cedarosaurus, in size and shape. Its pelvis and vertebrae are between Titanosaur and non-Titanosaur proportions, indicating its evolutionary placement in the Sauropod group.

Interesting Points about Venenosaurus

Venenosaurus in its Natural Habitat

Venenosaurus inhabited the lush, green landscapes of Early Cretaceous Utah— once characterized by a warm climate and varied vegetation. At this time, Utah was part of the paleocontinent Laramidia, comprising the western half of modern North America. The Poison Strip Sandstone’s greenish mudstone lenses resemble those of the Yellow Cat Member, where Sauropod remains have been found. In this lush, dynamic environment, Venenosaurus thrived alongside a variety of flora and fauna. 

The meandering river system provided abundant vegetation for Venenosaurus to browse on high foliage out of reach for other herbivores. This dietary specialization minimized competition for food, contributing to its success and longevity in the Early Cretaceous ecosystem. As an herbivore, this dinosaur primarily fed on vegetation that grew tall. Its long neck allowed it to reach leaves and branches that other herbivores could not access. 

In terms of social behavior, Venenosaurus might have lived in herds or small groups. Herding behavior would have provided protection against predators and allowed for efficient foraging and is not uncommon among its relatives. Its robust build and powerful limbs suggest it was capable of traveling long distances in search of food.

Contemporary Dinosaurs

During the same period as Venenosaurus, other fascinating dinosaurs roamed the ancient landscapes. Among them were Cedarosaurus, Falcarius, and Gastonia, each contributing to the rich tapestry of the Early Cretaceous ecosystem.

Cedarosaurus was another Brachiosaurid that lived in the same region and time as Venenosaurus. Both dinosaurs shared similar body structures, with long necks adapted for high browsing. The finer details of their anatomy resembled each other as well. The coexistence of these two Sauropods suggests a diverse and abundant plant life in their habitat that could support multiple large herbivores.

Gastonia was a heavily armored herbivore, well-protected against potential predators. Its low, wide body and defensive adaptations suggest a different approach to survival compared to the towering Venenosaurus. The interactions between these species would have shaped the dynamics of their ecosystem, with Gastonia providing a formidable challenge to any would-be predators.

One such predator was Falcarius–a smaller Theropod with a unique mix of features. It had long arms with sharp claws, indicative of its omnivorous diet. The presence of Falcarius alongside Venenosaurus highlights the varied dietary strategies and ecological niches occupied by dinosaurs during this period. These four dinosaurs of varying sizes, shapes, diets, and ways of life living side-by-side showcase the ecological diversity of the Early Cretaceous and the ongoing discoveries fueled by the work of paleontologists and volunteers alike.

Frequently Asked Questions

When was Venenosaurus discovered?

Anthony DiCroce discovered Venenosaurus in 1998, in Utah.

What does Venenosaurus mean?

The name means “Poison Lizard,” referring to the Poison Strip 
Member of the Cedar Mountain Formation.

What did this dinosaur eat?

It was an herbivore with a long neck that allowed it to feed on high vegetation such as leaves and branches.

How big was Venenosaurus?

Adults measured about 39 feet in length, 10.0 to 13.0 feet in height at the 
shoulder, and weighed around 6.6 tons.

What makes this dinosaur unique?

It is notable for its long neck, robust build, and its place within the 
diverse Brachiosaurid family.


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 Venenosaurus.

Article last fact checked: Joey Arboleda, 05-28-2024

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