The Mighty Parasaurolophus

A Hadrosaur With an Impressive Tail

The specimen on the ground is a fully articulated (joined together) tail that is 3 meters (10 ft.) long. Based on the tail length, scientists estimate the animal was at least 7.5 meters (25 ft.) long. The specimen is missing its skull, so further evidence must be studied to identify the animal.

Alan Titus, BLM paleontologist, uses cutouts to show the approximate size and shape of the whole animal. Only the tail section is exposed in the ground. We won't know what additional, if any, parts of the hadrosaur will be found until the tail is excavated.Alan illustrates the hip structure of the dinosaur with this cutout. Hip structure is an important clue to dinosaur identification.

By examining the hip structure, the length of the spine, and other anatomical features, scientists determined that this is a hadrosaur, also called a duck-billed dinosaur. Duckbills were large plant-eating dinosaurs of the Cretaceous Period. They lived in lush tropical environments. (Compare that to the environment today in Grand Staircase-Escalante!) This crested hadrosaur is believed to be in the genus Parasaurolophus. There have only been a handful of specimens representing this genus found in Canada, Utah, and New Mexico.

Illustration of Parasaurolophus in the dense Kaiparowits forests, by Carel Brest van Kempen from Dinosaurs of Utah by Frank DeCourten, courtesy of the University of Utah Press.

What did it look like? The Parasaurolophus is imagined to be one of the most attractive large animals ever to live on Earth. At up to 33 feet in length, it was a large animal, and some call it bizarre. Both males and females had hollow tubes projecting back from the top of their skulls, the male's being up to 1 meter (3 ft.) longer than the female's.

But while scientists can determine a lot of information from the study of bones and the reconstruction of skeletons, there's plenty they don't know. Most soft tissue (such as skin) is lost, so there is still some guesswork involved in determining exactly what amy dinosaur looked like. Artists' renderings vary, but some are quite spectacular when it comes to the Parasaurolophus.

How did it live? Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of paleontology is reconstructing the social behavior and lifestyles of these ancient animals. The Parasaurolophus probably lived in small herds, and ate shrubs and low growing plants. Scientists believe the animals also may have browsed on pine needles, based on studies conducted on a mummified hadrosaur from Montana. It is thought that their hollow tubes were used to communicate with bugle-like calls.

What Sounds Did it Make? Another example of a Parasaurolophus found on public lands is the fossil of a skull found in the De-Na-Zin Wilderness Area in New Mexico. This dinosaur lived about 75 million years ago when New Mexico was a lush, tropical area. The skull has recently been CAT-scanned and it's so well preserved that paleontologists can now learn much more about the sounds these dinosaurs may have made with their crests. You can read about and hear the results of their work at:

Paleontologists also believe that these hadrosaurs may have been migratory, traveling across western North America. There is much we still do not know about these animals. It is hoped that this specimen will shed light on the migration theory and add new information on the social behavior of the Parasaurolophus.