What is the Smallest Sauropod? All About the Small Sauropods
Sauropods were known for their gargantuan size, as it wasn’t uncommon for the dinosaurs to weigh 50 tons and measure 30 meters, which is more than 98 feet long! Yet not all sauropods were quite as sizable. Some were far smaller than average. Which is the tiniest?
There‘s not one smallest sauropod but several, including the Magyarosaurus and the Europasaurus. Other small sauropods of note include the Ohmdenosaurus, Lirainosaurus, Blikanasaurus, Algoasaurus, Vulcanodon, Neuquensaurus, Antetonitrus, and Shunosaurus.
As you can see, there is no shortage of small sauropods, which is truly fascinating, wouldn’t you say? We’ll examine the 10 shortest sauropods listed above and then delve into why some sauropods were smaller than others and what kinds of benefits they might have provided.
The 10 Smallest Sauropods
Let’s go over 10 of the most known small sauropods presented in no particular order.
Beginning the list is the Magyarosaurus, also referred to as the Magyar lizard. This dwarf sauropod species lived during the Late Cretaceous Period, with remains uncovered in modern-day Romania.
The only Magyarosaurus species is the Magyarosaurus dacus, which weighs between 1,650 and 2,200 pounds and measures 20 feet long.
The Magyarosaurus dacus was a relative of the Rapetosaurus, which also lived during the Cretaceous. However, it was far bigger at 49 feet.
Herbivorous and quadrupedal, the Europasaurus from the Late Jurassic Period roughly 154 million years back lived in what is today northern Germany. As a very small sauropod, the creature was 20 feet long in maturity.
The genus was first discovered in 1998, beginning with one lone tooth belonging to what a fossil collector knew was a sauropod. More remains were found, and all were in the Langenberg Mountain chalk quarry.
Next on the list of small sauropods is the Ohmdenosaurus, nicknamed the Ohmden lizard. This sauropod lived in the Early Jurassic Epoch, also in today’s Germany. The quadrupedal dinosaur was smaller than the others discussed and was believed to be between 9.8 and 13.1 feet long.
However, we don’t have a full specimen of the Ohmdenosaurus as of this writing, only an ankle and tibia bone from Germany’s Posidonia Shale. Thus, it is very possible the Ohmdenosaurus might have been even bigger or smaller, but it is hard to say for certain unless and until we find more of it!
Although the Lirainosaurus was a bit larger than your average small sauropod, it’s not by a huge degree, and certainly not enough to be commensurate with the average size of sauropods. The Lirainosaurus was only 10 meters or approximately 32.8 feet long, after all!
The genus nicknamed the slender lizard lived in what is today Spain. There is only one known species, and that’s the Lirainosaurus astibiae.
Ultra-small, the Blikanasaurus is believed to measure only 16.4 feet long. This sauropodomorph from the Late Triassic Period has only been partially discovered despite the uncovering of several specimens around South Africa, where the Blikanasaurus lived.
Since we don’t have more evidence of the lizard of Blikana’s full size, this is another instance in which its small size might not be an accurate measurement.
Although with a name like the Algoa Bay reptile, you’d think the Algoasaurus would be a ferocious creature, the dinosaur topped out at nine meters or 30 feet long. Again, maybe not teeny-tiny, but well below the average sauropod standard.
The Algoasaurus lived during the Early Cretaceous Period in South Africa’s Upper Kirkwood Formation in Cape Province. Many fossils have been found in Despatch, a town in the area, especially its quarry. That makes it relatively easy to pinpoint accurately where this dino might have called home.
Although the debate still rages on about the precise size of the Vulcanodon, what’s clear is that this dinosaur species was small. The question is just how small.
Some experts believe the dinosaur was 11 meters, 36 feet, and weighed 3.5 tons. Others argue the Vulcanodon was smaller, still at 6.5 meters or 21 feet. Since there is only one species of Vulcanodon to go off, it is hard to say the precise size of this Early Jurassic dino from South Africa.
Clocking in at about 23 feet long, the Neuquensaurus is another small sauropod of note. This saltasaurid genus lived about 80 million years back during the Late Cretaceous Period in what is today Uruguay and Argentina.
Nicknamed after the Neuquen River by which its fossils were uncovered, the Neuquensaurus had osteoderms all over its body that would have acted like a coat of armor. We don’t yet have a full dino skeleton, but enough of it exists to get an accurate picture of its size.
Certainly belonging on this list is the Antetonitrus, a sauropod genus from South Africa that lived during the Early Jurassic Period. Not only is it one of the smallest sauropods, but one of the oldest as well.
According to the holotype specimen, the Antetonitrus was eight to 10 meters long, which would have made the dinosaur anywhere from 26 to 32.8 feet. Again, not the smallest sauropod on this list, but still tiny!
The last small sauropod we’ll look at is the Shunosaurus, nicknamed the shu lizard, from the Late Jurassic Period about 159 million years ago. The dinosaur lived in modern China, specifically, the Sichuan Province.
Its fossils were first uncovered in 1977 by students, with the Shunosaurus lii species identified. The Shunosaurus is believed to be 9.5 to 11 meters long from the holotype, which means it would have measured anywhere from 31 to 36 feet. The dino also weighed 3.3 short tons and had a smaller neck than most sauropods.
Why the Size Discrepancy in Sauropods?
The average sauropod stood at 15 meters, approximately 50 feet, so why do so many dwarf sauropods exist?
That is something we can learn more about from the Europasaurus. Although not the only small sauropod, it is renowned for its tiny size.
The dinosaur genus experienced insular dwarfism, which refers to animals shrinking in size due to their environment. The Europasaurus genus was contained to a Lower Saxony basin island.
A dinosaur can only grow so large on an island, especially considering the creature would also share the island with other dinosaurs. If the dinosaurs had to be edged out due to lack of space, the possibility exists that a genus could have caused its own extinction.
Evolution naturally shrunk creatures in these predicaments, which started long before animals roamed the earth. Insular dwarfism dates back to at least the dinosaur age!
What Advantages Did Smaller Sauropods Have? What Disadvantages?
Living life smaller than one’s genus standards would suggest that tiny sauropods had some issues, which surely, they must have. Yet life wouldn’t have been a complete struggle, or many of these dinosaurs would never have been known since they would have died off that fast.
Let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons of smaller sauropods.
The Advantages of Smaller Sauropods
Although small sauropods weren’t the same size as their other sauropod brethren, they were still herbivorous all the same.
The small sauropods we looked at today lived across eons and epochs, but they would have competed for food sources with the larger sauropods they lived amongst and other herbivorous species.
Regular-sized sauropods had the benefit of a taller neck that would allow them to graze higher in the trees. Smaller sauropods could graze lower, and the two sauropod species wouldn’t eke into the other’s food supply.
Speaking of food supply, smaller sauropods might have been able to access food sources that larger sauropods could not due to their smaller, nimbler bodies.
The Disadvantages of Smaller Sauropods
However, we’d be remiss to mention the downsides to being smaller.
Tyrannosaurus preyed on sauropods. Although the Tyrannosaurus focused more on the large sauropods (they had more meat and thus were more viable prey), if a Tyrannosaurus went head-to-head with a smaller sauropod, the sauropod would always lose.
Smaller sauropods also likely lived in cramped conditions, which explains why they didn’t grow to their full potential. Although there’s no proof that this affected the quality of life, the sauropods that had more room to roam were certainly luckier.
How Did Small Sauropods Survive in The Dinosaur Era?
Small Sauropods (sauropod dinosaurs with adult body mass up to 17 tonnes) were some of the most successful and widespread animals during the Mesozoic Era. Yet, how did they survive in such a harsh environment where larger carnivorous dinosaurs roamed?
The answer lies in their evolutionary adaptations, which enabled them to live in various habitats, from forests to swamps. They had legs built for quick running speeds, long necks for reaching food higher up in trees, and low centers of gravity for stability on slippery terrain.
Small Sauropods also had large spinal cords, which provided better flexibility in controlling their movement. This allowed them to shift directions quickly when being chased by predators. Additionally, their vertebrae allowed them to curl into a defensive ball while keeping their heads high enough to breathe.
As a result, small sauropods had to find ways to avoid being hunted by larger predators while still being able to access enough food. They developed adaptations such as camouflage and swift movements to survive in the dinosaur era.
Island dwarfism is when animals on islands generally become smaller than their mainland counterparts. Insular dwarfism and phyletic dwarfism are closely related terms used in evolutionary biology to describe this phenomenon.
Therefore, many researchers believe that island dwarfism could be what led to the smallest Sauropod being found on an island. Through observation, researchers noticed the adult size decreased in some island Sauropod populations compared to mainland ones since larger sizes require more resources than small ones. With less food available, more of these organisms have evolved into smaller forms by natural selection to survive the environment better and compete for limited resources.
These smaller forms of sauropods are sometimes called “dwarf dinosaurs” because they are much shorter than the typical sauropod found on the mainland. These smaller sauropods typically had short legs and small heads but still reached a height of about 20-30 feet tall. These species include the Brachiosaurus of Madagascar, the Europasaurus from Germany, and the extraordinarily tiny Magyarosaurus from Hungary.
Island dwarfism is also seen in other species of large animals, such as giant rodents and deer and marine creatures like crabs and gars. By understanding how this process works, scientists can develop strategies to help conserve natural ecosystems while providing necessary resources for wildlife.
It is believed that island dwarfism occurs because when animals become isolated on islands, environmental pressures reduce body size over time due to limited resources and space for growth. Additionally, less competition for food sources will lead to reduced body sizes. Ultimately, it is still unclear why or how exactly certain species evolved into these oddly miniature versions of their original ancestries.
More About Sauropods
What Is the First Sauropod Dinosaur
Sauropod dinosaurs are an order of dinosaurs characterized by long necks, long tails, small heads (relative to the rest of their body) and four thick, pillar-like legs.
Around 230 million years ago, dinosaur pods first appeared during the Late Triassic Period, and by the Late Jurassic Period, about 150 million years ago, they had become widespread. Among the greatest creatures to have lived on land were Brachiosaurus (20 meters long), Diplodocus (25 meters long), and Brontosaurus (30 meters long).
What Is a Rare Sauropod
Sauropods are an order of dinosaurs that had characteristic features such as extremely long necks, tails, and small heads, in comparison to the rest of their body. Additionally, they had four stocky legs that could support their large sizes; some species being among the biggest land creatures ever known.
The Sauropod is a rare species due to its massive size and long life span. In fact, some sauropods could live for over 200 million years before becoming extinct in the Late Cretaceous period 65 million years ago. Additionally, these creatures were widespread across continents during their time due to their ability to adapt quickly as environmental conditions changed around them.
How Big Is the Biggest Sauropod
A group of dinosaurs known as sauropods included the largest land animals ever to exist.
The largest sauropods reached lengths of up to 100 feet (30 meters) and weighed as much as 70 tons. They had long necks, long tails, and four large legs with feet that had five toes each. Their bodies were covered in the skin rather than scales or feathers, and they had relatively small heads compared to their massive bodies. Sauropods are thought to have eaten only vegetation due to the shape of their teeth, which were adapted for chewing rather than tearing or ripping meat like other predatory dinosaurs’ teeth. Furthermore, scientists believe these creatures could not run quickly due to their massive size and weight distribution throughout their bodies.
Small sauropods, although uncommon, did exist, and they were a very interesting area of dinosaur study to glimpse deeper into. These smaller-than-usual sauropods were mostly isolated to islands, which explains why they didn’t develop as much as the sauropod standard called for, even in maturity.
We hope you enjoyed this glimpse into the fascinating lives of small sauropods!
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).