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What Was the Herbivore Dinosaur with Long Claws? Some Surprising Facts

Over the many centuries that dinosaurs lived, they evolved to adapt to their environments and for survival. Thus, to find a dinosaur species with a hunched back and long claws that were also an herbivorous (a plant-eater) is definitely strange yet captivating. What could that strange long-clawed dinosaur be? The world’s natural history has thousands of different species in all shapes and sizes, which was evident during the Mesozoic era in which the dinosaurs lived.

So, what was the herbivore dinosaur with long claws called, and where was it found? The Therizinosaurus is an herbivore dinosaur species with remarkably long claws found in the Mongolian Gobi Desert. Although scary looking, the Therizinosaurus with its hump-shaped back and tall neck and its long and mighty claws, came in handy to strip and collect vegetation to eat. In addition to fossil specimens, paleontologists have found fossilized eggs and nests.

It’s interesting to note that when paleontologists first found the Therizinosaurus in Mongolia, they didn’t know what to make of it and initially thought it was some ancient sea turtle without the shell. However, most puzzling was that this dinosaur had the longest claws of any theropod dinosaur previously found. 

PhotoCredit_Fossil-of-Therinzosaurus-by-Ghedoghedo-CC-BY-SA-3_0-AdventureDinosaurs
Photo Credit: Fossil of Therizinosaurus, Dinosaur Museum Aathal By Ghedoghedo CC BY-SA 3.0

If you want to learn more about the Therizinosaurus, this is one post you’re not going to want to miss. In this article, we’ll discuss more about the uses of the Therizinosaurus’ claws, its habitat in Cretaceous Mongolia and its anatomy, and other fun facts about this dinosaur species. Keep reading!

I’ve researched information to write this article from many sources – multiple internet sites and magazines. However, some of the best reference knowledge is from books. If you are interested in checking out the best dinosaur books for adults on Amazon, you can find them by clicking here: Best Dinosaur Books for Adults

The Herbivorous Giant: What Did the Therizinosaurus Use Its Claws For?

The Therizinosaurus is considered a therizinosaurid, a collection of dinosaurs referred to as scythe lizards. One look at the Therizinosaurus, and it’s easy to see why. The T. cheloniformis, the only officially recognized species of Therizinosaurus, had fiercely large, long claws, a hunched back, and walked on its hind legs.

About Those Giant Claws

Artwork renders of the species show these claws resembling chicken feet rather than the digits you’d see from a dinosaur species like a Velociraptor. Whether that’s truly what the Therizinosaurus’ claws look like is up for debate, but what’s undebatable is the presence of those giant long claws.

Each claw measured about 3.2 feet, which is 1 meter. The claws were also quite hard and stiff. No other dinosaur species is said to have claws longer than the Therizinosaurus, nor any animal.

So why did the Therizinosaurus have such long claws earning the distinction of being nicknamed the scythe lizard? Surely the claws made the Therizinosaurus especially adept at tearing through the flesh of its prey and eating the dinosaur’s innards, right?

Well, while we don’t know if the Therizinosaurus could do that, we’re more certain that it didn’t. Instead, the Therizinosaurus used its claws in a much gentler manner: for collecting vegetation. 

Remember, the Therizinosaurus is an herbivore, so it had no interest in hunting down smaller dinosaurs and eating game. Scientists have looked into the possibility that it could have been a carnivorous dinosaur, especially with its giant claws, but have concluded that it was a plant-eater. It would venture through its environment (more on the Therizinosaurus habitat in the next section) and grab leaves from trees. Since this dinosaur stood 15 feet tall on average, we don’t doubt it had any issues collecting leaves from trees and fallen leaves from the ground.

The giant claws could pierce through leaves, and the cupped hands could hold onto them until the Therizinosaurus wanted to stop and eat. (Source)

YouTube Video on Evolution of Therizinosaur Dinosaurs

YouTube video by Ben G. Thomas which discusses the family of Therizinosaurs and how their anatomy developed. Great overall information about this family of dinosaurs which of course include the Therizinosaurus

Therizinosaurus Habitat and Anatomy 

The Therizinosaurus is best-known for its claws, but there’s more to this dinosaur than merely that. Let’s discuss this gentle giant, including its habitat and its anatomy.

Therizinosaurus Habitat

The Therizinosaurus lived roughly 70 million years ago in the Late Cretaceous Period. Its habitat is today’s Nemegt Formation, also referred to as the Nemegtskaya Svita. This geological formation, as part of the Gobi Desert, includes river channel sediments. In addition to the Therizinosaurus, birds, fauna, crocodilians, turtles, fish, and other dinosaurs have been unearthed here.

The habitat of Cretaceous Mongolia and, in particular, the Gobi Desert was floodplains, streams, and ancient lakes. During the time the Therizinosaurus lived, indicative today by the remaining sandstone and mudstone found across the Nemegt Formation, it was not a desert climate but instead was humid and even sub-tropical. Conifer and deciduous forests are believed to have grown across Mongolia during the Cretaceous Period and quite a lot of forest cover. Check out my article on different dinosaur habitats: What Are the Different Dinosaur Habitats? 9 Places Where They Lived.

The species of trees that would have thrived in this Gobi Desert region include Araucariaceae conifer trees, some of the most ancient conifers. They diversified primarily during the Cretaceous and Jurassic periods.

Due to these conifers’ height, the land that became the Nemegt Formation probably had quite a tall tree canopy. From the sediments found, paleontologists believe the dinosaurs and creatures that lived here had lots of food to eat.

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Therizinosaurus Anatomy

The Therizinosaurus, as we mentioned, could stand 15 feet tall and about 33 feet long in adulthood. It was quite a heavy dinosaur species too, weighing more than 5 tons. Its torso was wide, and its beak durable (yes, a beak, not a mouth). Further, the Therizinosaurus had quite a long neck for reaching high into the trees and biting off leaves it didn’t collect in its claws.

Like sauropodomorphs, the Therizinosaurus had only four toes, each that would bear a lot of weight. It is interesting considering the Therizinosaurus is a therizinosaurid and not a sauropodomorph.

Due to its size, the Therizinosaurus could escape being consumed by the Tarbosaurus, which also roamed the Gobi Desert lands during the Late Cretaceous Period. Since the Therizinosaurus was taller, the Tarbosaurus knew to stay away and go after prey more of its own size.

A Therizinosaurus’ skull was relatively small compared to its body and tail, but its belly was wider and broader, as mentioned. This species also had unguals or distal bones that were compressed to the side and quite straight.

Paleontologists also believe the Therizinosaurus possessed feathers. Some artistic illustrations show the Therizinosaurus’ entire body covered with feathers like a chicken, which is a fun idea but not entirely accurate. Instead, the feathers were spread more sparsely across the body as per fossil remains indicate. (Source)

A Table of Therizinosaurus’ Habitat & Anatomy

In the following table I list out some of the key elements of the habitat and anatomy of the Therizinosaurus.

Surprising Facts about the Therizinosaurus

The Therizinosaurus is one of the fascinating dinosaurs not only of the Late Cretaceous period but in general. We’re still not done sharing interesting facts about this benevolent herbivore, though. Here are some more things worth knowing.

Paleontologists Weren’t Sure What the Therizinosaurus Was When First Discovered

Sometimes when paleontologists discover dinosaur fossils, it takes them years, if not decades, to put a full picture together. That full picture also never comes in some instances.

The remains of the Therizinosaurus were confounding to paleontologists, and that’s putting it lightly. The first fossils were discovered in 1948 when researchers combed the Gobi Desert for dinosaur bones. Few bones of the Therizinosaurus were found, but enough to identify the species. I wrote a whole article just about Gobi Desert Dinosaurs, check it out here: Gobi Desert Dinosaurs – The Amazing Fossil Discoveries.

Due to the low number of fossils that paleontologists had to work with, they at first wrongly assumed that the Therizinosaurus was a type of turtle. As more pieces of the Therizinosaurus puzzle became assembled, including forelimbs, hindlimbs, and those noteworthy claws, paleontologists soon had a different picture of this dinosaur species.

You Can See a Therizinosaurus Statue if You Visit Poland

If you ever happen to go to Baltow, Poland, make it a point to stop and spend an afternoon at JuraPark, Poland’s outdoor dinosaur museum. There, the staff has painstakingly recreated hundreds of dinosaur species to their real scopes.

One of the most distinct dinosaur statues around is Therizinosaurus, which is recreated in lifelike detail from head to toe. Finally, you can see those ferocious claws and a more realistic depiction of the number of feathers the Therizinosaurus likely possessed.

Since dinosaurs are sadly long since gone, this is a great chance to be surrounded by lifelike replicas and outdoors!

Therizinosaurus Eggs Were Discovered as Recently as 2013

We’re still learning more about the world of dinosaurs all the time, including in the 21st century. Only a few years ago, in 2013, another key discovery was made about the Therizinosaurus. Yoshitsugu Kobayashi of Hokkaido University was visiting the Gobi Desert that year researching the land.

As detailed in this Yahoo! News article, Kobayashi found a Therizinosaurus nest that had upwards of 17 egg clutches. It was such a major discovery that Kobayashi spoke at the 73rd Annual Society of Vertebrate Paleontology conference. Each egg has a diameter of about 5 inches and a roughened shell texture. If you want to know more about dinosaur eggs, check out my article: How Much Would A Real Dinosaur Egg Be Worth?

The Therizinosauria, formerly known as Segnosaurs, were quite large-sized. Paleontologists believe the group started dying out even before dinosaurs went extinct 65 million years ago. Only the Therizinosaurus and the Nanshiungosaurus were around during the Late Cretaceous to keep the Therizinosauria alive. 

Final Thoughts

The Therizinosaurus was one of the largest theropod dinosaurs of the Late Cretaceous in Asia, and its claws are the longest of any dinosaur. Although it could have been one of the Gobi Desert’s fiercest predators by looks alone, the Therizinosaurus used its claws to collect leaves, choosing to be herbivorous. 

As paleontologists slowly piece together the Gobi Desert’s dinosaur habitats and environment, new fossil finds of this strange and interesting dinosaur continue to add to the knowledge base. 

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