Facts About Parasaurolophus

Facts About Parasaurolophus

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01of 11

How Much Do You Know About Parasaurolophus?

Wikimedia Commons

With its long, distinctive, backward-curving crest, Parasaurolophus was one of the most recognizable dinosaurs of the Mesozoic Era. On the following slides, you'll discover 10 fascinating Parasaurolophus facts.

02of 11

Parasaurolophus Was a Duck-Billed Dinosaur

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Even though its snout was far from its most prominent feature, Parasaurolophus is still classified as a hadrosaur, or duck-billed dinosaur. The hadrosaurs of the late Cretaceous period evolved from (and technically are counted among) the plant-eating ornithopods of the late Jurassic and early Cretaceous periods, the most famous example of which was Iguanodon. (And no, in case you were wondering, these duck-billed dinosaurs had nothing to do with modern ducks, which actually descended from feathered meat-eaters!)

03of 11

Parasaurolophus Used its Head Crest for Communication

Kevin Schafer / Getty Images

The most distinctive feature of Parasaurolophus was the long, narrow, backward-curving crest that grew out of the back of its skull. Recently, a team of paleontologists computer-modeled this crest from various fossil specimens and fed it with a virtual blast of air. Lo and behold, the simulated crest produced a deep, resonating sound--evidence that Parasaurolophus evolved its cranial ornament in order to communicate with other members of the herd (to warn them of danger, for example, or signal sexual availability).

04of 11

Parasaurolophus Didn't Use its Crest as a Weapon or Snorkel

Wikimedia Commons

When Parasaurolophus was first discovered, speculation about its bizarre-looking crest ran rampant. Some paleontologists thought this dinosaur spent most of its time underwater, using its hollow head ornament like a snorkel to breathe air, while others proposed that the crest functioned as a weapon during intra-species combat or was even studded with specialized nerve endings that could "sniff out" nearby vegetation. The short answer to both of these wacky theories: No!

05of 11

Parasaurolophus Was a Close Relative of Charonosaurus

Nobumichi Tamura/Stocktrek Images / Getty Images

One of the odd things about the late Cretaceous period is that the dinosaurs of North America closely mirrored those of Eurasia, a reflection of how the earth's continents were distributed tens of millions of years ago. For all intents and purposes, the Asian Charonosaurus was identical to Parasaurolophus, albeit slightly larger, measuring about 40 feet from head to tail and weighing upwards of six tons (compared to 30 feet long and four tons for its American cousin). Presumably, it was louder as well!

06of 11

The Crest of Parasaurolophus May Have Helped Regulate its Temperature

Wikimedia Commons

Evolution rarely produces an anatomical structure for a single reason. It's very likely that the head crest of Parasaurolophus, in addition to producing loud blasts of noise (see slide #3), served double duty as a temperature-regulation device: that is, its large surface area allowed this presumably cold-blooded dinosaur to soak up ambient heat during the day and dissipate it slowly at night, allowing it to maintain a near-constant "homeothermic" body temperature. (Unlike feathered dinosaurs, it's extremely unlikely that Parasaurolophus was warm-blooded.)

07of 11

Parasaurolophus Could Run on its Two Hind Legs

Robertus Pudyanto / Contributor / Getty Images

During the Cretaceous period, hadrosaurs were the largest land animals--not just the largest dinosaurs--capable of running on their two hind legs, albeit only for short stretches of time. The four-ton Parasaurolophus probably spent most of its day browsing for vegetation on all fours, but could break into a reasonably brisk two-legged trot when it was being pursued by predators (babies and juveniles, most at risk of being eaten by tyrannosaurs, would have been particularly nimble).

08of 11

Parasaurolophus' Crest Aided Intra-Herd Recognition

Nobu Tamura

The head crest of Parasaurolophus probably served yet a third function: like the antlers of a modern-day deer, its slightly different shape on different individuals allowed members of the herd to recognize one another from far away. It's also likely, though not yet proven, that male Parasaurolophus possessed bigger crests than females, an example of a sexually selected characteristic that came in handy during mating season--when females were attracted to big-crested males.

09of 11

There Are Three Named Species of Parasaurolophus

Sergio Perez

As is often the case in paleontology, the "type fossil" of Parasaurolophus, Parasaurolophus walkeri, is somewhat disappointing to behold, consisting of a single, incomplete skeleton (minus the tail and hind legs) discovered in Canada's Alberta province in 1922. P. tubicen, from New Mexico, was slightly bigger than walkeri, with a longer head crest, and P. cyrtocristatus (of the southwestern U.S.) was the smallest Parasaurolophus of them all, only weighing about a ton.

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Parasaurolophus Was Related to Saurolophus and Prosaurolophus

Saurolophus (Wikimedia Commons).

Somewhat confusingly, the duck-billed dinosaur Parasaurolophus ("almost Saurolophus") was named in reference to its roughly contemporary fellow hadrosaur Saurolophus, to which it wasn't particularly closely related. Further complicating matters, both of these dinosaurs may (or may not) have descended from the much less ornately decorated Prosaurolophus, which lived a few million years earlier; paleontologists are still sorting all this "-olophus" confusion out!

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The Teeth of Parasaurolophus Continued to Grow Throughout its Lifetime

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Like most duck-billed dinosaurs, Parasaurolophus used its tough, narrow beak to clip off tough vegetation from trees and shrubs, then ground up each mouthful with the hundreds of small teeth packed into its teeth and jaws. As the teeth near the front of this dinosaur's mouth eroded away, new ones from the back gradually made their way forward, a process that presumably continued unabated throughout Parasaurolophus' lifetime.