Types of Duck Billed Dinosaurs -Names, Habitats, Nests


Parasaurolophus-was-a-crested-duck-billed-dinosaur-AdventureDinosaurs

One of the fascinating dinosaur families that once walked the face of the earth was the Hadrosauriadae Family or commonly known as the “duck billed dinosaurs.” Now they didn’t get to be labeled duck billed dinosaurs just for the fun of it. Paleontologists have been classifying the types of duck billed dinosaurs. 

So, what are the types of duck billed dinosaurs? Hadrosauridae has two types of Hadrosaurid subfamilies, the hollow-crested Lambeosaurinae, and the non-crested Saurolophinae. There are also Basal Hadrosaurids, which are classified as more primitive or ancestral. Their fossils were found in North America, South America, Europe, and Asia.

These majestic beasts boasted unique anatomy, specifically the flattened and stretched rostral bones in their mouths that gave them that distinct duckbill we all now associate them with. 

It’s interesting to learn more about how the Hadrosaurids or duck billed dinosaurs had lived. Visually, the bony cranial crests made some of the Hadrosaurids strikingly different from other dinosaurs. Yet, there is more to them than just their fascinating duckbill appearance. 

They are among the most diverse families of dinosaurs, yet they were only composed of herbivores. Consider this:

● Not a single member of this family became an omnivore or carnivore. They were always plant-eaters, i.e., herbivores

● Paleontologists often compare them to modern grazers like sheep and cows – we can learn a lot from this comparison 

● The many types of duck billed dinosaurs diversified into subgroups, so their fossils are found at sites around the world

● Hadrosaurs lived in multiple habitats and laid eggs that would carry on their family for millions of years in the Late Cretaceous Period

Let’s turn back the clock and learn more about them in this post!

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There are three types of Hadrosaurids. The hollow-crested Lambeosaurinae, the non-crested Saurolophinae and the Basal (ancestral) – AdventureDinosaurs

Types and Names – Types of Duck Billed Dinosaurs and What Is the Duck Billed Dinosaur Called?

The Hadrosauridaes or the family of the duck billed dinosaurs are some of the most diverse dinosaurian families out there. They are also one of the earliest dinosaurs ever to be found by paleontologists. 

Hadrosaurids are the earliest fossils in North America, starting with the 1856 discovery of their fossilized teeth. However, despite being one of the earliest ever found, they lived in the Cretaceous Period, the Mesozoic Era’s last period.

YouTube Video – Brachylosaurus Hadrosaurid Fossil Discussed

YouTube Video by Discovery which examines a duck bill dinosaur fossil and explains the different anatomy

Despite being late in appearing in the fossil records, the Hadrosauridaes were some of the most widespread dinosaurs during the Late Cretaceous Period. 

They branched into two subfamilies, while some genus and species of duck billed dinosaurs appeared to be basal, or perhaps didn’t fall into the two subfamilies. The Hadrosaurus is an example of Hadrosauridae’s genus that didn’t get classified in the subfamilies, yet it is still a duck billed dinosaur. 

INSERT Clades Classification

In the following images, I add the two main clades of duck billed dinosaurs. In the first image, I outline a simplified top-level clade of Hadrosauridae. 

In the next image, a simplified clade of Saurolophidae – the non-crested duck billed dinosaurs.

Lastly, in the following image, I show the Basel Hadrosaurids.

The only species in this genus is the Hadrosaurus foulkii, one of the earliest Hadrosaur fossils.

To give you a general description of how these duck billed dinosaurs looked like, as their common name suggests, their snout or mouth looked similar to a duck’s bill. They were two-legged dinosaurs that could walk on their hind legs. However, as scientists examined the fossil bones, it suggests that they were grazing animals and, as such, relied on their front legs to walk. 

The Hollow-Crested Hadrosaurids 

The first of two subfamilies of duck billed dinosaur Hadrosaurids are the hollow crested Hadrosaurids from the subfamily Lambeosaurinae. They are classified as such because of the distinctive head crests above their head. The head crest adds more style to their already uniquely-shaped skull. This subfamily is diverse by itself because they have more than ten identified subgroups. 

One of the interesting aspects of these dinosaurs’ head crest is that the head crest is hollow. Some paleontologists suggest that it was part of the nasal passages (or nasal bone) and could be used to make sounds. 

One notable confirmed species in this subfamily is the Parasaurolophus walkeri. Like its fellow Hadrosaurids in the Lambeosaurinae subfamily, it had a very distinct crest above its head that almost looks like an adornment.

Table 1 - Hollow-Crested Hadrosaurids - Lambeosaurinae

Crested Hadrosaurid Where Fossils FoundWhat's Interesting About This Dinosaur?
CharonosaurusAsiaOne of the largest in Asia. Cousin to the Parasaurolophus
CorythosaurusNorth AmericaFossil remains of last meal - conifer needles, seeds, twigs and fruit
LambeosaurusCanada, North AmericaSome fossils destroyed in WW1
TsintaosaurusChinaHad a distinctive crest on its snout
MagnapauliaBaja California, MexicoSkin impressions of this dinosaur, no full crest found
PararhabdodonSpainInitially thought it was a Basal Hadrosaurid, later corrected
ParasaurolophusCanada and New Mexico, Utah USAThe Parasaurolophus cyrtocristatus was the smallest and had the most curved crest
VelafronsMexicoClosely related to Corythosaurus
Crested Hadrosaurid Where Fossils FoundWhat's Interesting About This Dinosaur?

The members of this subfamily all have the same duck billed or extended rostral bones in their mouths that all members of the Hadrosauridae have. Yet, what is distinct in this subfamily are the hollow crests on their heads that vary in shapes and sizes. 

These hollow crests may have served a purpose different from the crested members of the other subfamily. The hollow crests that all Lambeosaurinae family members have are most likely used for vocalization and communication purposes.

Although the head crests were hollow, they were bony crests, and we are lucky for this because they could be fossilized. The bony crests were part of an extension from the skull. It’s interesting to note that these bony crests developed and changed position as the dinosaur grew. A young dinosaur would have its crest more toward the nose and as it matured, more backward on the skull.

However, a hollow head crest may be prone to injuries or, in some cases, fractures. Multiple fossilized skulls of the Parasaurolophus walkeri are broken or fractured. More about this crested dinosaur will be covered below.

 It also doesn’t help that most of these hollow crests are too elaborate to be structurally strong. Lastly, like all members of Hadrosauridae’s big family, all hollow crested Hadrosaurids can run on all fours and walk with two feet.

One unique formation of the head crest is found from a transitional hadrosaurid named Gryposaurus. This dinosaur had a nasal head crest that initially was positioned more on its nose when young, and then when it grew older, it moved backward. (Source) Scientists have found different ages of fossil skeletons and determined that the dinosaurs looked different at one-year-old and three-year-old.

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The hollow-crested Parasaurolophus could walk on its hind legs, but would walk on all four legs when grazing. – AdventureDinosaurs

One of the most well-known crested hadrosaurid dinosaurs was Parasaurolophus. This dinosaur lived in North American and the Asian regions during the late-Cretaceous. (Source) The Parasaurolophus walkeri is estimated to have reached 9.5 m (31 ft), and its weight is estimated at 2.5 tonnes (2.8 short tons). 

The crest of the Parasaurolophus, which is one of the most identifying features of this dinosaur. Paleontologists suggest that the use of the crest is one or a combination of:

● Using the crest as a weapon against predators or in mating battles

 Used as a type of snorkel when in water (rivers and marshes)

● Used as a way of moving plants out of the way

● Used as a way of communication, in which the hollow crest was blown like a horn

The Parasaurolophus’ behavior was similar to other hadrosaurs, especially its herd behavior. They were social, and scientists can only guess how communication via their hollow head crest could have been. Paleontologists suggest that they could have herded with other herbivore dinosaurs as well. (Source)

The Lambeosaurus was a Lambeosaurine Hadrosaur that had a recognizable crest that was hollow, with air chambers. As mentioned, some scientists think that the hollow display crests could be used for communication as it could make a sound.

The beak had the distinctive duckbill shape, and like all Hadrosaurs, it was herbivorous and walked on its hind legs and forelegs when grazing. It is suggested that the display crest could also be used for mating visual displays. 

The Lambeosaurus fossils have been found in North America (Canada, Baja California), Europe, Mongolia, China, and Russia. It was a late-Cretaceous Hadrosaur, living up until the mass-extinction event.

The Non-Crested Hadrosaurids

The other type of duck billed dinosaurs is a subfamily that belongs to the Saurolophinae or the non-crested Hadrosaurids, although some species of this subfamily do have crests. The crests that some of the members of this family have been different. They are not hollow head crests like in the first subfamily, and also they are differently shaped. 

This subfamily has species equipped with a solid crest that is perfect for skull bashing, instead of vocalization. Most of the subfamily members do not even have a crest, hence the name of the subfamily. 

Table 2 - Non-Crested Hadrosaurids - Saurolophinae

Non-Crested Hadrosaurid Where Fossils FoundWhat's Interesting About This Dinosaur?
EdmontosaurusCanadaOne of the largest species and skin impressions found with fossils
GryposaurusCanada and Texas, USARecently named as own species
SecernosaurusArgentina3 different fossils found
MaiasauraMontana, USAKnown for Egg Mountain, where multiple nests with eggs found
BrachylophosaurusCanadaThe 1994 fossil skeleton was nicknamed "Elvis"
AquilarhinusTexas, USAHad a shovel-like beak or snout
ShantungosaurusChinaThe largest Hadrosaurid fossil found in the world (Shandong, China)
SaurolophusChina, Mongolia, Canada and USAThe head crest of this dinosaur was a spike-like shaped crest
Non-Crested Hadrosaurid Where Fossils FoundWhat's Interesting About This Dinosaur?

This subfamily members also have the common characteristics of all duck billed dinosaurs, the extended rostral bones, and the bipedal-quadrupedal walking abilities. As for what sets the subfamily members different from their hollow-crested cousins, some have solid crests while some don’t have any. Its nose shape was a “humped nose” and had the typical duckbill shaped snout. 

The members of this subfamily tend to be more defensive with their solid crests and colonial nesting habits, especially the Maiasaura. 

The Edmontosaurus was a non-crested hadrosaur. However, paleontologists think that they did have a soft head crest, much like a rooster. As it was a duck billed dinosaur, its snout had rostel bones which made shaped like a duck beak, it walked on its hind legs although used its front legs while grazing. The fossils of Edmontosaurus have been found in North America, mostly in Canada. 

Edmontosaurus-skeleton-AdventureDinosaurs
The Edmontosaurus was a non-crested Hadrosaurid – AdventureDinosaurs

The Edmontosaurus annectens, which was found in Wyoming, was an exceptional well-preserved duck billed dinosaur fossil. 

Interestingly, other recent fossils of the Edomntosaurus had preserved the skin impressions and stomach contents, so scientists now know the texture of its skin and what it ate before it died.

A recent fossil discovery (2019) in Texas of a non-crested type of duck billed dinosaur named Aquilarhinus (meaning “eagle snout”) is one of the most complete skulls of this type of dinosaur found in that area. The Aquilarhinus had a shovel-billed snout and lived in the late-Cretaceous period. It is now considered to be a new species of Hadrosaur. (Source)

Gryposaurus was a non-crested hadrosaurid whose fossils were found in Utah, USA. The fossils found were nearly complete, and additionally, the skin impressions have given paleontologists extra information about this dinosaur. The arched nasal crest, which gave the skull the Gyrposaurus a distinctive look, is one of the key identifiers. The nose bone helped to identify the type of Hadrosaurid it was.

One of the interesting things about Gryposaurus is that the fossils show how the scales were distributed along the dinosaur’s neck, back, and sides. It lived in the late-Cretaceous.

The Basal Hadrosaurids 

After the two subfamilies of the duck billed dinosaurs, some hadrosaurids do not fall under either subfamily. Nevertheless, these dinosaurs are members of the Hadrosauridae family because they have all the common characteristics, including the rostral duckbill bones. Scientists believe that they had a common ancestor as well.

Basal Hadrosaurids tend to be of the oldest members of the entire family of duck billed dinosaurs. Basal, in biological terms, means primitive or ancestral. The most prominent basal Hadrosaurid happens to be the first to be ever found in North America, the Hadrosaurus Foulkii. 

Table 3 - Basal Hadrosaurids

Basal Hadrosaurid Where Fossils FoundWhat's Interesting About This Dinosaur?
TelmatosaurusRomaniaA smaller Hadrosaurid compared to other fossils
JintasaurusChinaSupports theory of Hadrosaurids having ancestors in Asia
LophorhothonAlabama, USAIncomplete skull but one of the first of the genus found
ClaosaurusUS - Kansas and S. DakotaConsidered to have walked on hind legs and had a stiff, long tail
TethyshadrosItalyWas considered a dwarf-sized Hadrosaurid. Found on an island
HadrosaurusNew Jersey, USAFossils show signs that Hadrosaurus had tumors
Eotrachodon orientalisAlabama, USAConsidered to be a rare fossil find from this area of the USA
Basal Hadrosaurid Where Fossils FoundWhat's Interesting About This Dinosaur?

The Aquilarhinus is another basal hadrosaurid. It is a”shovel-chinned eagle nose” hadrosaurid, a member of the Aquilarhinus genus. 

As the name implies, the only member of this genus has a unique mouth that almost resembles an eagle’s snout. This one didn’t get to be classified on the two subfamilies because it doesn’t have a crest, while also having a rostral bone that no other hadrosaurid has. You could say its duckbill looks more like a shovel-chinned eagle nose or beak. 

The Aquilarhinus was a primitive hadrosaurid. Although it had a crest, it was slightly different from later crested duck billed dinosaurs. It is exciting because scientists can track and hypothesize about the evolution of crested hadrosaurs. Some of the Basal Hadrosaurids have display crests, but not all of them do. 

Corythosaurs-types-of-duck-billed-dinosaurs-AdventureDinosaurs
Some Basal Hadrosaurids had crests, but others didn’t. The Basal Hadrosaurids were older ancestral duck billed dinosaurs – AdventureDinosaurs

Another primitive ancestor to hadrosaurids was the Iguanodon. It was distantly related to the duck billed Hadrosaurs. It was similar to other hadrosaurs as it was a herbivore dinosaur, it walked on its hind legs and its front legs. However, it didn’t have any display crests, and it is known for having a large spike at the end of its thumb. 

The Lapampasaurus is another hadrosaurid that didn’t get to be classified in either subfamily. This extinct genus only has one confirmed species, for now. The discovery was on the Allen formation in La Pampa Province, Argentina, hence the name. 

Since the specimens found are not complete, paleontologists could not classify the genus to the two subfamilies. There is also a huge possibility that it might be a basal species and closely related to the Aquilarhinus and Hadrosaurus.

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Habitats – Where Did the Duck Billed Dinosaur Live? Is the Duck Billed Dinosaur a Herbivore?

During the mid to late Cretaceous Period, the climate was different than what we have today. It should be noted that flowers were still new and that the forests back then could have been composed of pines and conifers.

All the different duck billed dinosaurs described above lived during the Cretaceous period and existed until the mass-extinction event. 

The Hadrosaurids Lived Relatively Warm Climates Rich With Grasslands

During this period, the supercontinent Gondwana started to break up; therefore, inland seas were prominent. During this time, sea levels were so high due to the melting of the polar ice caps. The duck billed dinosaurs may have likely lived in a warm temperate Earth filled with internal seaways, ancient deltas, and marshlands.

Paleontologists and paleobiologists estimate that hadrosaurids lived in these types of habitats:

● Grasslands
● Forests
● Savannas
● Rivers and lagoons
● Inland seas and river deltas
● Marshes

Hadrosaurids Were Herbivorous Grazers Like Modern Sheep and Cows 

The Hadrosaurids may have had a paleo diet of horsetails and low growing grasses. All of them were herbivores, plant-eating dinosaurs. 

The prevailing theory is that the duck billed dinosaurs were grazers like modern sheep and cows. This declaration by a paleontologist group was because the specimens’ skull bones and fossilized teeth showed that they were good at chewing. If you’re interested to learn how much a dinosaur tooth is worth, check out my article What’s the Value of a Real Dinosaur Tooth (Single, On Jawbone)?.

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The Hadrosaurids were grazing animals with rows of flat interlocking teeth which were good for chewing – AdventureDinosaurs

Some paleontologists suggest that the Hadrosaurids were actually tree browsers like modern-day giraffes. Whatever the case is, some prevailing theories tend to be debunked, just like how the Spinosaurus changed from the semi-aquatic theory to the now fully aquatic theory.

Places Where Fossils of Different Types of Duck Billed Dinosaurs Were Found

Duck billed dinosaurs have been found worldwide but are concentrated in a few key geographical areas. The duck billed dinosaurs’ fossils tend to be more commonly found in North America.

Other discoveries of different types of duck billed dinosaurs in North America include the Edmontosaurus and Parasaurolophus, both found in Alberta, Canada, and the famous Maiasaura in Montana, USA. Other specimens were also found in Asia and Europe.

The skull bones of the Hadrosaurid fossils are perhaps the most important in the identification of what type of Hadrosaurid the dinosaur was. By examining if the skull bones have a head crest or not, examining the shape of the nose and mouth, as well as the teeth, tells paleontologists a lot about the fossils. 

Did Dinosaurs Build Nests? Herds Of Hadrosaurids Nested Close to Each Other

The discovery of the Hadrosaurids was revolutionary because they were proof that some dinosaurs do not fit the “large lizard” depiction. The Maiasaura was famous because it showed something that was not expected of dinosaurs, colonial nestings. 

It means that Maiasaura peeblesorum, otherwise called the “caring lizard,” and other duck billed dinosaurs lived in herds and nested close to each other. Nicknamed “egg mountain” in Montana, it was excavated and found to have 14 dinosaur nests, not 14 eggs but 14 nests with multiple eggs.

It was exciting to find that Maiasaurs did nest building so close to each other. Although the materials used to build the nest were not fossilized, you could see that they had shaped nests and the eggs were in a circular order, indicating a nest structure. If you ever wondered how valuable a dinosaur egg is, check out my article How Much Would A Real Dinosaur Egg Be Worth?

The place in Montana where these dinosaur nests were found was a place known as Egg Mountain, near a town named Choteau. The nesting site with all the nests of dinosaur eggs was found in July 1979, the first ones discovered by Fran Tannenbaum. 

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Nests of dinosaur eggs have been found in many places around the world, but Egg Mountain in Montana, USA is a special place as a duck billed dinosaur nesting ground – AdventureDinosaurs

The amazing thing about Egg Mountain is that for 40 years, and counting, dinosaur eggs, fossils of a baby (juvenile), and adult dinosaurs such as the Maiasaura peeblesorum have been discovered and can now be studied. (Source)

The site also points to how dinosaurs lived together in herds, nested, and took care of their young. 

The Hadrosaurids Cared For Their Young Even After Hatching

The Hadrosaurids are also known to care for their young even after hatching. Fossil evidence shows that herds of Hadrosaurids migrated to meet the nutritional demands of their young. This habit is almost similar to how zebras and wildebeests migrate the African continent clockwise. 

The fossilized nests of Maiasaurs at Egg Mountain in Montana changed a lot of the previous thinking as to how dinosaurs laid eggs and whether they took care of their young or not. 

Since multiple ages of dinosaur fossils were found – babies, juveniles, and adults – it suggests that there was some care given to young dinosaur hatchlings. Additionally, as young dinosaurs were more in danger by predators, by staying in herds and protecting their young, they had a better chance at survival. 

Conclusion

What a sight it must have been millions of years ago to see herds of duck billed dinosaurs, nesting, and taking care of their young. Probably, if they had Parasaurolophus crests, you might even be able to hear horn sounds coming from the herds. 

If those herds didn’t have head crests, such as dinosaurs like Edmontosaurus, the imagination wonders if they would really be grazing similar to the way modern-day cows are in a field. 

Luckily, we have the museums to see the fossil remains of these interesting and unique duck billed dinosaurs.

Michael Haralson

I'm the owner of Adventure Dinosaurs website. Although I have an extensive business background, I am fascinated with dinosaurs and have been since childhood. I'm fortunate enough to have visited fossil museums in Europe (UK, Germany, and Spain), the US (California, Texas) and in Asia (China). Currently, I'm location independent with a home base in Kirkkonummi, Finland.

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