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Prosauropod Dinosaur Pictures and Profiles

Prosauropod Dinosaur Pictures and Profiles

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Meet the Prosauropod Dinosaurs of the Mesozoic Era

Jingshanosaurus. Flickr

Prosauropods were the small, ancient, bipedal progenitors of the giant, four-legged sauropods and titanosaurs that dominated the later Mesozoic Era. On the following slides, you'll find pictures and detailed profiles of over 30 prosauropod dinosaurs, ranging from Aardonyx to Yunnanosaurus.

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Aardonyx

Aardonyx. Nobu Tamura

Name:

Aardonyx (Greek for "earth claw"); pronounced ARD-oh-nix

Habitat:

Woodlands of southern Africa

Historical Period:

Early Jurassic (195 million years ago)

Size and Weight:

About 20 feet long and 1,000 pounds

Diet:

Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics:

Long neck and tail; long, low-slung body

Only "diagnosed" in 2009 based on two juvenile skeletons, Aardonyx was an early example of a prosauropod--the plant-eating precursors of the huge sauropods of the late Jurassic period. What makes Aardonyx important from an evolutionary perspective is that it seemed to pursue a mostly bipedal lifestyle, dropping occasionally to all fours to feed (or perhaps mate). As such, it captures an "intermediate" stage between the lighter, bipedal herbivorous dinosaurs of the early and middle Jurassic periods and the heavier, quadrupedal plant eaters that evolved later.

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Adeopapposaurus

Adeopapposaurus. Nobu Tamura

Name:

Adeopapposaurus (Greek for "far-eating lizard"); pronounced AD-ee-oh-PAP-oh-SORE-us

Habitat:

Woodlands of South America

Historical Period:

Early Jurassic (200 million years ago)

Size and Weight:

About 10 feet long and 150 pounds

Diet:

Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics:

Long neck and tail; horny beak

When its type fossil was discovered a couple of years ago in South America, Adeopapposaurus was believed to be a species of a more famous prosauropod of the early Jurassic period, the African Massospondylus. Later analysis showed that this medium-sized herbivore deserved its own genus, though its close relationship to Massospondylus remains beyond dispute. Like other prosauropods, Adeopapposaurus possessed a long neck and tail (though nowhere near as long as the necks and tail of later sauropods), and it was probably capable of walking on two feet when circumstances demanded.

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Anchisaurus

Anchisaurus. Wikimedia Commons

The famous paleontologist Othniel C. Marsh identified Anchisaurus as a dinosaur in 1885, though its exact classification couldn't be pinned down until more was known about the evolution of sauropods and prosauropods. See an in-depth profile of Anchisaurus

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Antetonitrus

Antetonitrus. Eduardo Camarga

Name:

Antetonitrus (Greek for "before the thunder"); pronounced AN-tay-tone-EYE-truss

Habitat:

Woodlands of Africa

Historical Period:

Late Triassic (215-205 million years ago)

Size and Weight:

About 30 feet long and two tons

Diet:

Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics:

Long neck; thick trunk; grasping toes on feet

You'd have to be in the know to get the joke, but the person who named Antetonitrus ("before the thunder") was making a coy reference to Brontosaurus ("thunder lizard"), which has since been renamed Apatosaurus. As a matter of fact, this Triassic plant-eater was once thought to be a specimen of Euskelosaurus, until paleontologists took a closer look at the bones and realized they might be looking at the first-ever true sauropod. In fact, Antetonitrus seems to have possessed anatomical characteristics reminiscent of both prosauropods ("before the sauropods"), such as movable toes, and sauropods, such as relatively small feet and long, straight thigh bones. Like its sauropod descendants, this dinosaur was almost certainly limited to a quadrupedal posture.

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Arcusaurus

Arcusaurus. Nobu Tamura

Name

Arcusaurus (Greek for "rainbow lizard"); pronounced ARE-koo-SORE-us

Habitat

Woodlands of southern Africa

Historical Period

Early Jurassic (200-190 million years ago)

Size and Weight

Undisclosed

Diet

Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics

Long neck; occasional bipedal posture

Way back during the late Triassic and early Jurassic periods, southern Africa teemed with prosauropods, the distant cousins of the giant sauropods that arrived on the scene tens of millions of years later. Recently discovered in South Africa, Arcusaurus was a contemporary of Massospondylus and a close relative of the better-known Efraasia, which is somewhat surprising since this latter dinosaur lived at least 20 million years earlier. (Exactly what this means for theories of sauropod evolution is still a matter of debate!) By the way, the name Arcusaurus--Greek for "rainbow lizard"--doesn't refer to this dinosaur's bright coloring, but to Archbishop Desmond Tutu's characterization of South Africa as the "Rainbow Nation."

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Asylosaurus

Asylosaurus. Eduardo Camarga

Name

Asylosaurus (Greek for "unharmed lizard"); pronounced ah-SIE-low-SORE-us

Habitat

Woodlands of western Europe

Historical Period

Late Triassic (210-200 million years ago)

Size and Weight

Undisclosed

Diet

Unknown; possibly omnivorous

Distinguishing Characteristics

Slender build; bipedal posture

Its name may be the most interesting thing about Asylosaurus: this dinosaur's moniker translates from the Greek as "unharmed lizard," a reference to the fact that its remains avoided destruction during World War II when they were shipped to Yale University, while the "type fossil" of its close relative, Thecodontosaurus, was bombed to pieces in England. (Originally, Asylosaurus was assigned as a species of Thecodontosaurus.) Essentially, Asylosaurus was a plain vanilla "sauropodomorph" of late Triassic England, from a time when these ancient ancestors of the sauropods didn't look all that much different from their meat-eating cousins.

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Camelotia

Camelotia. Nobu Tamura

Name

Asylosaurus (Greek for "unharmed lizard"); pronounced ah-SIE-low-SORE-us

Habitat

Woodlands of western Europe

Historical Period

Late Triassic (210-200 million years ago)

Size and Weight

Undisclosed

Diet

Unknown; possibly omnivorous

Distinguishing Characteristics

Slender build; bipedal posture

Its name may be the most interesting thing about Asylosaurus: this dinosaur's moniker translates from the Greek as "unharmed lizard," a reference to the fact that its remains avoided destruction during World War II when they were shipped to Yale University, while the "type fossil" of its close relative, Thecodontosaurus, was bombed to pieces in England. (Originally, Asylosaurus was assigned as a species of Thecodontosaurus.) Essentially, Asylosaurus was a plain vanilla "sauropodomorph" of late Triassic England, from a time when these ancient ancestors of the sauropods didn't look all that much different from their meat-eating cousins.

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Efraasia

Efraasia (Nobu Tamura).

Name:

Efraasia (Greek for "Fraas' lizard"); pronounced eff-FRAY-zha

Habitat:

Woodlands of central Europe

Historical Period:

Late Triassic (215-205 million years ago)

Size and Weight:

About 20 feet long and one ton

Diet:

Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics:

Slender trunk; long fingers on hands

Efraasia is one of those dinosaurs that paleontologists would rather file in a back cabinet, in some dusty museum, and forget. This Triassic-period herbivore has been misidentified a record number of times--first as a crocodilian, then as a specimen of Thecodontosaurus, and finally as a juvenile Sellosaurus. By 2000 or so, Efraasia had been conclusively identified as an early prosauropod, the evolutionary branch it occupied eventually giving rise to the giant sauropods of the late Jurassic period. This dinosaur is named after Eberhard Fraas, the German paleontologist who first unearthed its fossil.

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Euskelosaurus

Euskelosaurus. Getty Images

Name:

Euskelosaurus (Greek for "well-limbed lizard"); pronounced YOU-skell-oh-SORE-us

Habitat:

Woodlands of Africa

Historical Period:

Late Triassic (225-205 million years ago)

Size and Weight:

About 30 feet long and two tons

Diet:

Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics:

Thick trunk; long neck and tail

Fifty million years before its sauropod descendants roamed the earth, Euskelosaurus--which is classified as a prosauropod, or "before the sauropods"--must have been a common sight in the woodlands of Africa, judging by the number of fossils that have been recovered there. This was the first dinosaur ever to be discovered in Africa, in the mid-1800's, and at 30 feet long and two tons it was certainly one of the largest land creatures of the Triassic period. Euskelosaurus was a close relative of two other large prosauropods, Riojasaurus in South America and its fellow African plant-eater Melanorosaurus.

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Glacialisaurus

Glacialisaurus. William Stout

Name

Glacialisaurus (Greek for "frozen lizard"); pronounced GLAY-shee-AH-lah-SORE-us

Habitat

Plains of Antarctica

Historical Period

Early Jurassic (190 million years ago)

Size and Weight

About 20 feet long and one ton

Diet

Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics

Slender build; long neck; bipedal posture

Only a handful of dinosaurs have been discovered in Antarctica, not because this was an inhospitable place to live during the Mesozoic Era (it was actually rather mild and temperate) but because conditions today make excavation so difficult. What makes Glacialisaurus important is that it's the first prosauropod, or "sauropodomorph," to be identified on this frozen continent, which has given paleontologists valuable insight into the evolutionary relationships of these distant sauropod ancestors. Specifically, Glacialisaurus seems to have been most closely related to the Asian Lufengosaurus, and coexisted with the fearsome predator Cryolophosaurus (which may occasionally have had it for lunch).

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Gryponyx

Gryponyx. Getty Images

Name

Gryponyx (Greek for "hooked claw"); pronounced grip-AH-nix

Habitat

Plains of southern Africa

Historical Period

Early Jurassic (200-190 million years ago)

Size and Weight

About 16 feet long and half a ton

Diet

Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics

Slender build; bipedal posture

Named by the famous paleontologist Robert Broom in 1911, Gryponyx has never quite cemented its place in the official dinosaur record books--possibly because Broom mistook his find for a type of theropod, whereas later consensus places Gryponyx as a prosauropod, an ancient, slender, bipedal ancestor of the massive sauropods that evolved millions of years later. For much of the past century, Gryponyx has been lumped in with one or another species of Massospondylus, but a more recent analysis claims that this slender African plant-eater may actually deserve its own genus after all.

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Ignavusaurus

Ignavusaurus. Wikimedia Commons

Name:

Ignavusaurus (Greek for "cowardly lizard"); pronounced ig-NAY-voo-SORE-us

Habitat:

Woodlands of Africa

Historical Period:

Early Jurassic (190 million years ago)

Size and Weight:

About five feet long and 50-75 pounds

Diet:

Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics:

Small size; long neck and tail

Despite its name--Greek for "cowardly lizard"--there's no reason to believe that Ignavusaurus was any less brave than any other early prosauropod, the ancient cousins and distant progenitors of the sauropods (though at only five feet long and 50 to 75 pounds, this gentle herbivore would have made a quick snack for the larger and hungrier theropods of its day). The "coward" part of its moniker actually derives from the region of Africa where this dinosaur's remains were found, the name of which translates roughly as "home of the coward's father."

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Jingshanosaurus

Jingshanosaurus. Flickr

Name:

Jingshanosaurus (Greek for "Jingshan lizard"); pronounced JING-shan-oh-SORE-us

Habitat:

Woodlands of Asia

Historical Period:

Early Jurassic (190 million years ago)

Size and Weight:

About 30 feet long and 1-2 tons

Diet:

Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics:

Large size; long neck and tail

One of the largest prosauropods--the herbivorous, four-footed, distant uncles of the later sauropods--ever to walk the earth, Jingshanosaurus tipped the scales at a respectable one to two tons and was about 30 feet long (by comparison, most prosauropods of the early Jurassic period only weighed a few hundred pounds). As you might guess from its advanced size, Jingshanosaurus was also among the last of the prosauropods, an honor it shares with its fellow Asian plant-eater Yunnanosaurus. (It may yet be the case that Jingshanosaurus will be reassigned as a species of this more well-known prosauropod, pending further fossil evidence.)

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Leonerasaurus

Leonerasaurus. Wikimedia Commons

Name

Leonerasaurus (Greek for "Leoneras lizard"); pronounced LEE-oh-NEH-rah-SORE-us

Habitat

Woodlands of South America

Historical Period

Middle Jurassic (185-175 million years ago)

Size and Weight

Undisclosed

Diet

Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics

Long neck and tail; longer hind than front legs

At some point during the early Jurassic period, the most advanced prosauropods (or "sauropodomorphs") started to evolve into the true sauropods that dominated the world's continents millions of years later. The recently discovered Leonerasaurus possessed a unique and confusing combination of basal (i.e., primitive) and derived (i.e., advanced) characteristics, the most important of the latter being the four vertebrae connecting its pelvis to its spine (most prosauropods had only three), and the most important of the former being its relatively puny size. For now, paleontologists have classified Leonerasaurus as a close relative of Anchisaurus and Aardonyx, and very close to the emergence of the first true sauropods.

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Lessemsaurus

Lessemsaurus. Wikimedia Commons

Name:

Lessemsaurus (Greek for "Lessem's lizard"); pronounced LESS-em-SORE-us

Habitat:

Woodlands of South America

Historical Period:

Late Triassic (210 million years ago)

Size and Weight:

About 30 feet long and two tons

Diet:

Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics:

Large size; long neck and tail; bipedal posture

Described by the famous Argentinean paleontologist Jose Bonaparte in 1999--who named his find after the popular dinosaur-book author and science popularizer Don Lessem--Lessemsaurus was one of the largest prosauropods of late Triassic South America, measuring a full 30 feet from head to tail and weighing in the neighborhood of two tons (which still wasn't much compared to the giant sauropods of the late Jurassic period). This plant-eater shared its habitat with, and may have been closely related to, another plus-sized South American prosauropod, the better-known Riojasaurus. Like other prosauropods, Lessemsaurus was distantly ancestral to the giant-sized saurpods and titanosaurs of the later Mesozoic Era.

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Leyesaurus

Leyesaurus. Wikimedia Commons

Name:

Leyesaurus (after the Leyes family that discovered it); pronounced LAY-eh-SORE-us

Habitat:

Woodlands of South America

Historical Period:

Late Triassic (200 million years ago)

Size and Weight:

About 8 feet long and a few hundred pounds

Diet:

Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics:

Low-slung body; long neck and tail

Announced to the world in 2011, based on the discovery of a fossilized skull and bits and pieces of leg and backbone, Leyesaurus is the latest addition to the prosauropod roster. (Prosauropods were the slender, plant-eating dinosaurs of the Triassic period whose closest cousins evolved into the gigantic sauropods of the Jurassic and Cretaceous.) Leyesaurus was comparatively more advanced than the much earlier Panphagia, and about on a par with the contemporary Massospondylus, to which it was closely related. Like other prosauropods, the slender Leyesaurus was probably capable of sprinting on its hind legs when pursued by predators, but otherwise spent its time on all fours, nibbling low-lying vegetation.

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Lufengosaurus

Lufengosaurus. Wikimedia Commons

Name:

Lufengosaurus (Greek for "Lufeng lizard"); pronounced loo-FENG-oh-SORE-us

Habitat:

Woodlands of Asia

Historical Period:

Early Jurassic (200-180 million years ago)

Size and Weight:

About 20 feet long and two tons

Diet:

Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics:

Long neck and tail; quadrupedal posture

An otherwise unremarkable prosauropod (the line of quadrupedal, herbivorous dinosaurs that preceded the giant sauropods) of the late Jurassic period, Lufengosaurus had the honor of being the first dinosaur ever mounted and displayed in China, an event that was commemorated in 1958 with an official postage stamp. Like other prosauropods, Lufengosaurus probably nibbled on the low-lying branches of trees, and may have been capable of (occasionally) rearing up on its hind legs. About 30 more-or-less complete Lufengosaurus skeletons have been assembled, making this herbivore a common exhibit in China's natural history museums.

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Massospondylus

Massospondylus. Nobu Tamura

In the past few years, convincing evidence has come to light that the prosauropod dinosaur Massospondylus was primarily (and not only occasionally) bipedal, and thus faster and more agile than was previously believed. See an in-depth profile of Massospondylus

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