Parasaurolophus is one of the known herbivore dinosaur species thought to roam the plains of North America. Like other dinosaurs, Parasaurolophus has something unique to brag about that makes it stand out from other species. These traits will surely make anyone love them and can be a sure favorite from the dinosaur pack.
What was the Parasaurolophus crest used for? The most recognizable trait in Parasaurolophus is the crest. It makes communication possible in that it enables them to bond, call for mates, and socialize. Each Parasaurolophus species documented has a unique crest structure specific for their kind.
Particular traits have evolved in any organism due to evolution and adaptation to its environment. These traits help them survive from the harshest condition they have been subjected to. When we talk about apparent special features, Parasaurolophus indeed has been blessed with quite a few that make it undoubtedly special. This article will talk about the Parasaurolophus, including facts about its discovery, lineage, and traits that make it special.
Table of Contents
The Amazing Crest of the Parasaurolophus
One of the valuable identifiers scientists used is the readily recognizable crest in the Parasaurolophus head. It may be unusual, but this primarily makes this dinosaur special.
The Best of Parasaurolophus Crest
If you look at dinosaurs in movies and images, it will be easy to spot Parasaurolophus because of the curved-tubular crest that sits on top of its head, giving it the name the “near crested lizard.” The crest starts at the nose and continues to the back over the head, forming an arch. One thing for sure is that this crest is a bone protrusion attached to its skull hence also referred to as a cranial crest.
In addition, the crest is covered with soft tissues as a support for the bone. Also, note that not all Parasaurolophus fossils recorded have an intact and good condition making it harder for scientists to describe the structure of the crest intricately.
So far, the crest was described to have a hollow tube in the middle and is proportionate to the growth stage of the dinosaur. Juveniles have smaller crests, and in some species, smaller crests can also indicate a female dinosaur.
The crest’s hollow tube also contained a series of chambers (middle and outer) that connected the nostrils to the trachea or the windpipe, primarily forming four tubes and approximately six feet long.
A Crest Not Just For Display: Other Functions of the Crest
Based on the hollow structure of the crest, scientists hypothesized many reasons for the presence of the ornament in Parasaurolophus, searching for possible answers to their queries from the fragments of fossils they were able to obtain.
One of the many answers they come up with is that it passes air to the lungs, making scientists believe that this might be used as a “snorkel.” The connecting chambers from the nostrils to the trachea right down to the breathing organ would probably allow Parasaurolophus in aquatic habitats. Through time, this was debunked by many since the structure of the crest (lacking holes in the crest’s apex) could have drowned the Parasaurolophus if it did live habitually in water.
At the same time, the crest was also deemed a thermoregulating apparatus to control the dinosaur’s body temperature, especially the head. The networks of blood vessels concentrated in the crest provide a cooling function to the brain and eyes. It is particularly important since dinosaurs could have likely elevated internal temperatures like warm-blooded birds.
The crest could also appear colored and might be used to attract mates. The crest’s color is also related to the age and maturity of the Parasaurolophus species. (Source)
The most plausible function is that it serves as a communication device. The crest structure having these hollow tubes produces higher frequencies or lower pitches in juveniles that the parents can easily detect. Communication between parent and offspring could then be possible. The Parasaurolophus can also use the sound emitted by the crest to distinguish other individuals or other Parasaurolophus species. It is thanks to the sophisticated computer tools researchers have today that proved this function.
Parasaurolophus socialization was efficient since they might have the means to distinguish these sounds into signals or calls. The ability to differentiate ts pitches and frequencies allowed the Parasaurolophus to communicate. This socialization behavior can be seen in the Jurassic Park and Land Before time movies wherein this dinosaur species were found staying in herds gnawing on leaves and grass. Staying in packs probably gives Parasaurolophus protection from enemies in the same way that herbivores usually live today. (Source)
Where Fossils of the Parasaurolophus Have Been Found
Fossils are the number one key to look into the past and prove the existence of one prehistoric organism such as Parasaurolophus. Its fossils have been found in a handful of spots, indicating that it could have traveled far and wide as it likes.
The Evidence that Placed it to Spotlight: Areas it Likely Traveled
The first documentation of Parasaurolophus was first done in Alberta, Canada, when Levi Sternberg excavated a skull and a good portion of the skeleton in the 1920s. This place is now the Dinosaur Provincial Park. The name Parasaurolophus species recovered was given by William Parks soon after. Fossils were also found in Arizona.
The fossil unearthed in New Mexico lacked legs and limbs, which took some time for scientists to develop how appendages in Parasaurolophus are structural. However, this earliest find was the most complete specimen discovered that enabled researchers to picture out the majority of the body form of Parasaurolophus.
Fossils of a possibly young Parasaurolophus were also unearthed in Utah in 2009. It was called “Joe” since it was the smallest fossil discovered by far. It was described with a low bump on its head that could eventually morph into adult dinos’ hollow crest tubes.
Recent excavations also discovered a fossil from New Mexico in 2017 with an intact crest that shows the network of chambers that enables the dinosaur to produce and receive sound through its head ornament.
Altogether, there are already three species of Parasaurolophus described from the recovered skull in North America. Yet, many Parasaurolophus skulls in Southern Utah are still awaiting identification which makes this even more exciting.
The Status of Fossil Finds
The discovery of many Parasaurolophus skulls in Utah recently makes the vast possibility of a long list of new species. What makes the Utah skull special is that it has been well-preserved, especially the iconic head crest.
It is different from the two previously identified North American Parasaurolophus, which both have straight-ish longer crests. Instead, the Utah skull has a pretty distinct crest that appears shorter yet adheres to a more curved shape.
These findings confirmed three species of Parasaurolophus living in North America. The species described in New Mexico tend to be more related than the species unearthed in Canada. With the limitation of the available fossils scientists are studying, it is of great possibility that more and more species can be identified. Unfortunately, only a total of five fossils are reviewed and are preserved in Museums. (Source)
Anatomy, Classification, and Phylogeny of the Parasaurolophus
Here are some of the other interesting facts about Parasaurolophus that make it unique aside from the striking cranial crest.
General Anatomy of Parasaurolophus
Parasaurolophus is quite an interesting species. Its general body plan consists of the crest, the body with a stiff tail, and four limbs with two hind limbs that are larger than the front. It can walk on four limbs like other hadrosaurids but has two more muscular hind limbs that make it a fast runner.
Its back is a notch where the crest would fit when the dinosaur tried to lean or look upwards. The body is quite bulky, weighing around 3700 kg with an approximate height of more than 8 feet and around 40 ft long. It has a beak lined with a set of modified teeth in its cheek for gnawing on vegetation since it is an herbivore. It sometimes stores food in its cheek like squirrels. Parasaurolophus is an agile dinosaur with keen vision and hearing but no defense structures in the body like spikes or clubs.
Ancestors and Sisters of Parasaurolophus: Its Classification and Phylogeny
Parasaurolophus is a Hadrosaurid which is the most diverse dinosaur group during the Cretaceous period. Hadrosaurids are also called duck-billed dinosaurs. This family is known for their bizarre crests and honking noises which further classified them to Subfamily Lambeosurinae.
While the other subfamily, Saurolophinae, has a solid crest in its head. Lambeosaurus and Parasaurolophus belong to the same family and are closely related to Charonosaurus from China, which also has a cranial ornament. To date, only three species are known from a few good specimens of these dinosaurs, namely P. cyrtocristatus, P. walkeri, and P. tubicen. P. cyrtocristatus have a distinguishable shorter, arch-shaped cranial crest, while the other two species have longer and straighter crests over their head. (Source)
Parasaurolophus is an undoubtedly unique dinosaur. The cranial crest and the possible ability to communicate using sounds produced by the crest and distinguish calls are fascinating. The Parasaurolophus’ bizarre head ornament surely did not hinder them from being a special, one-of-a-kind dinosaur.
● I’ve written a whole article about hadrosaurs including the different types and the ones with distinctive head crests which gives a broader perspective on these duck-billed dinosaurs.
● If you are interested in reading more hadrosaurs that lived in North America, I wrote an article just on this topic which includes more info on hadrosaur species discovered in northern Montana.