Most of the general public knows the popular dinosaurs such as T. Rex, Diplodocus, Iguanodon, and Ankylosaurus. Because of the Jurassic Park franchise movies and their popularity over the last few decades, even more exposure to dinosaurs has been given. Dinosaur fossils have been found all over the world, even in Antarctica. What about the dinosaur fossils found in China? It makes me wonder how many dinosaurs were found there, what species were they, and how they compare to the more well-known North American dinosaurs?
Dinosaurs found in China were long neck sauropods, armored dinosaurs, carnivores, velociraptor-type feathered dinosaurs, and flying reptiles. Many of these Chinese dinosaurs were similar to North American and European known dinosaurs, and at the same time, there are some unique differences. While many fossil remains have been found in the Chinese part of the Gobi desert (Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang provinces), fossils have also been found in the provinces of Sichuan, Guangdong, Liaoning, and Yunnan.
The remains of fossil dinosaurs – both in terms of partial and complete dinosaur skeletons or dinosaur footprints – indicate that there were ecosystems of dinosaurs living in China during all three Mesozoic era periods. There were herbivorous and carnivorous dinosaurs as well as the lesser-known and rare omnivore and piscivore dinosaurs. The climates and habitats of Jurassic China and Cretaceous China were different. The climate was much hotter during the Jurassic. It was cooler and humid during the Cretaceous, which led to a subtropical or even a tropical climate.
Let’s go over some of the well-known and significant dinosaur fossil discoveries in China and compare them with some of the more popular known dinosaurs from North America and Europe.
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Did Dinosaurs Live in China? List of Dinosaurs Found in China
There are hundreds of dinosaur fossils found in China. Many of them are exhibited in museums. However, some are not completely classified or fully researched, yet what we do know that full ecosystems of dinosaurs existed during the Mesozoic era, with most fossils found that represent the Jurassic and Cretaceous time periods. Let’s take a look at the herbivorous and carnivorous dinosaurs and the rare omnivorous and piscivorous Chinese dinosaurs.
YouTube Video Showing Dinosaur Fossils Found in Yunnan, China
Carnivorous Dinosaurs Fossils Found in China
Carnivorous dinosaurs were the predators of the ecosystem. They hunted and ate other dinosaurs to survive. Carnivorous dinosaurs had sharp teeth designed to tear and cut flesh and had a strong bite force.
China’s carnivorous dinosaurs were smaller than, for instance, the large North American or South American apex predators, but fossil remains indicate that they had carnivorous features similar to other species around the world. Equivalent species of Chinese carnivorous dinosaurs are the T Rex of North America and the Giganotosaurus of South America. In the table below, I list the carnivorous predatory dinosaurs that lived in China.
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Herbivorous Dinosaur Fossils Found in China
Herbivorous dinosaurs came in all different sizes around the world and also in China. The four main groupings of plant-eating herbivores can be:
● The long neck sauropods – these Chinese dinosaurs had equivalent species such as the North American Diplodocus and Apatosaurus. Interestingly, prosauropods are considered to be basal (ancestors to sauropods) or sister taxa. They were also found in China and had equivalent species in places like Argentina.
● The armored dinosaurs – armored dinosaurs such as Triceratops, Stegosaurus, and Ankylosaurus found in North America also have the Chinese equivalent species. The armor is different, but the species are related. These dinosaurs had bony tails ending in spikes or clubs and plates along the back to defend against predators.
● The duckbilled hadrosaurs – these plant-eating dinosaurs have been found globally, and their Chinese equivalent is also found in parts of China. Hadrosaurs are known to have nesting sites where scientists suspect that they cared for their young.
● The feathered raptor-like dinosaurs – one of the most well-known raptor-like dinosaurs is the Velociraptor, which lived in Mongolia’s Gobi desert. Many related feathered raptor dinosaurs lived in China, and scientists suggest that birds are related to them.
Below is a table of herbivorous Chinese dinosaurs whose fossils have been found in China.
Omnivorous and Piscivorous Dinosaurs Found in China
Omnivorous dinosaurs are those that eat both meat and plants. There have been some omnivorous dinosaurs found in North America and Europe. Piscivorous dinosaurs ate fish. Dinosaurs like the Baryonyx and Spinosaurus are inspected for having a fish diet due to fossilized fish remains in the stomach of the fossilized dinosaur. Below are Chinese dinosaurs that were omnivores or piscivores.
Flying reptiles in China
There were no flying dinosaurs. Instead, it’s best to describe them as flying reptiles. Flying reptile fossils have been found in China and, additionally, their nests. The nesting grounds of these flying reptiles included clutches of eggs, and many fossilized eggs have been found together in the nest. Many of these flying reptiles were Pterosaurs, and these species have been found in locations worldwide. As mentioned above, there are also many fossils of feathered dinosaurs, and these are significant because they are ancient relatives to modern-day birds. Below are some of the flying reptiles that have been found in China.
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The Most Famous Chinese Dinosaurs – A Few To Consider
Now let’s take a look at a few of the Chinese dinosaurs that are significant and remarkable in their own right. These Chinese dinosaurs show unique features in the skeletal fossil remains, while others are unique because of the size or the significance to the scientific community. In my view, it’s interesting to compare and contrast the differences from similarly classified dinosaurs to dinosaurs and other geographic regions.
Let’s take a deeper dive into some of the dinosaur fossils that have been found in China that have become famous and why.
The Yangchuanosaurus was a carnivore that lived in the late Jurassic period. It was similar in shape and size to the North American Allosaurus dinosaur. It walked on its hind legs, had short arms, and its skull was big with strong jaws and serrated teeth designed to tear flesh from its prey.
What’s unique about this Chinese dinosaur Yangchuanosaurus, is that nearly complete skeleton specimens have been found, which gives scientists much data to work with. Its fossil record has been found in Sichuan. It is considered the apex predator during its time period of the Late Jurassic and likely hunted sauropods such as Mamenchisaurus (see below) and armored dinosaurs such as Chunkingosaurus. (Source)
The Mamenchisaurus is considered to be the sauropod with the longest neck. It was a true long-necked dinosaur! This dinosaur’s significance is that scientists estimate that the length of the neck of this sauropod comprised over 60% of the length of the dinosaur. Equivalent sauropod species in North America and South America (the Titanosaurs, for instance) were very tall and long. However, their necks were not as long as the Mamenchisaurus. Fossil remains of this dinosaur have been found in Sichuan, the first one at a construction site in 1952. Since then, three other species have been found with a complete neck with 19 vertebrae. This dinosaur lived during the late Jurassic period and most likely inhabited swamps and river deltas. Scientists estimate that the longest of the species, the Mamenchisaurus sinocanadorum had a length of 115ft (35m) and could have weighed 55-88 tons (50-80 tonnes). (Source)
Shunosaurus lii and Lingwulong Shenqi
The Chinese dinosaur Shunosaurus represents one of the best anatomically known sauropods (Source – wiki) and what is significant is that paleontologists have found over 20 skeletons and reassembled it so that it represents a near-complete skeleton, up to 94%, which includes the neck, trunk, skull, and tail. This specific dinosaur’s tail ends in a club-shaped that is made of bone and includes four spikes.
The Shunosaurus fossil skeletons were first discovered in 1977 by a group of paleontology students. Scientists have dated its fossils to have existed in the late Jurassic period. Interestingly, because the sauropod smaller than other sauropods, it is considered a basal sauropod or prosauropod. Scientists consider prosauropods to be a sister taxa or ancestral species that evolved into later sauropods. The length of the Shunosaurus is estimated to be 31ft (9.5m) and a weight of 3.3 tons (3 metric tonnes). Its physical shape was considerably smaller in size than the Mamenchisaurus, which lived at approximately the same time and geographical area of Sichuan.
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The Sinocalliopteryx was a therapod dinosaur. Being a carnivore, it hunted on its hind legs. It also had to short arms. It’s interesting to note that this dinosaur had a long tail, and along its body and feet, it had what scientists described as “protofeathers,” or a type of hair-like structures that resemble primitive feathers. It is considered to be the first dinosaur with feathers found in the world. In terms of size, based on fossil specimens, it reached a length of 7.8 feet (2.4 meters), and fossils found in 2012 were larger. Fossils have been found in Liaoning province, and these dinosaurs existed 125 million years ago in the late Jurassic period. This dinosaur is classified as a Compsognathid and equivalent species that existed in Europe (Germany and Italy) and South America (Argentina).
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The Shantungosaurus during the late Cretaceous period in the Shandong area of China and is considered to be the largest Hadrosaur found in the world. A duckbilled dinosaur, the reassembled fossil skeleton measures 48 feet in length (14.7 m) and could have weighed as much as 18 tons (16 metric tonnes).
Scientists suggest equivalent species to be the Edmontosaurus from Canada as both dinosaurs have similar features. Additionally, the Shantungosaurus is related to species found in other parts of North America, South America, and Russia. Duckbilled dinosaurs are known for their duckbill shaped snouts, which contained thousands of flat grinding teeth to chew vegetation, and they are also known for nesting sites with clutches of eggs such as the Maiasaura found in North America.
Places Where Dinosaur Fossils Were Found in China
Some of the key places where dinosaur fossils were found in China are:
● Liaoning Province– Up to 40 different dinosaur fossils have been found in Liaoning Province, including the first feathered dinosaur, the Sinocalliopteryx. Other dinosaurs found in this area are Microraptors, ancient turtle species, and pterosaurs (the flying reptiles). There were many fossils of bird-like dinosaur species found, and logically, many dinosaurs and flying reptile eggs were found in this area too. (Source)
● Henan – Nanyang – Nanyang is famous in China as a place where dinosaur fossils and gallbladder stones from dinosaurs have been found. The Sauropod dinosaur Baotianmansaurus, a titanosaur, was also found in Henan.
● Inner Mongolia and Xinjian Province– The Gobi Desert extends through the Chinese provinces of Inner Mongolia and Xinjian. The Gobi Desert is a well-known place for finding dinosaur fossils, although most of the famous fossils from the Gobi desert are written about are from Mongolia. Nevertheless, Inner Mongolia has rich sites of dinosaur fossils as well. For instance, the armored ankylosaur Pinacosaurus has been found, and interestingly, they have found so many skeletons that scientists suggest that they may have lived in herds. Other dinosaurs are the Alxasaurus, a type of therizinosaur, and many bird-like dinosaurs, including the Velociraptor.
● Yunnan Province – The area around Lufeng in Yunnan is famous for having lots of dinosaur fossils such as prosauropods, sauropods, and theropod dinosaurs. Many of them have not been classified yet. Some of the dinosaurs fossils found are the Gyposaurus, the Lufengosaurus, and the Jingshanosaurus.
● Sichuan Province – since 1957, dinosaur fossils have been found in this province, and cities like Chongqing are known to have multiple fossil sites. Many of the dinosaur fossils have been sauropods like the Omeisaurus, the armored dinosaurs, and carnivores like the Szechuanosaurus campi. Sauropods like the Mamenchisaurus, Hadrosaurs, and carnivorous predators like the Yangchuanosaurus have all been found in Sichuan.
● Heyuan in Guandong province – Although many dinosaurs and flying reptiles have been found in the southern China province of Guandong, Heyuan is famous in this province for its dinosaur eggs. The fossilized dinosaur eggs of Pterosaurs (flying reptiles), bird-like dinosaurs, and raptors nesting sites have been found.
Dinosaur fossil skeletons tell us about creatures that lived millions of years ago. A country like China, the history of civilization going back thousands of years, also has a natural history going back millions of years when the dinosaurs roamed China. It’s exciting to realize that from these fossil discoveries, there were complete dinosaur ecosystems that existed during all three periods of the Mesozoic era in China.
As mentioned previously, many of the dinosaurs that are generally well known by the public are from North America and South America, and Europe. However, China had equivalent dinosaurs and as we have seen in this article.
Paleontologists are continuing to find new fossil discoveries and research fossils that have already been found in China. It’s amazing that so many dinosaurs lived in China and resemble species found in Argentina, Russia, and Canada. Who knows what future undiscovered species in China will lead to in terms of understanding of dinosaurs.
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With over 5 years dedicated to exploring the world of dinosaurs, Michael is a key voice on adventuredinosaurs.com. He holds a BBA, and an MSc in Economics, and is currently enrolled in a certificate paleontological studies at the University of Alberta, Canada. His professional journey, including roles at Nokia and Amino Communications, is complemented by a deep-rooted passion for paleontology. This enthusiasm is further fueled by visits to global Natural History Museums and an ambition to join renowned paleontological digs.
While Michael actively engages with paleontologists and aspires for collaborations, his writings on adventuredinosaurs.com stand as a testament to his commitment, blending business insights with a profound appreciation for the ancient world. He has been fascinated with dinosaurs since childhood and is fortunate enough to have visited fossil museums in Europe (UK, Germany, and Spain), the US (California, Texas), and Asia (China).