Meet the Cryolophosaurus, the 21-foot predator with the shape and physique of a T-rex. But unlike the great T-rex which had scaly skin, the Cryolophosaurus had feathers.
The Cryolophosaurus are the oldest known tetanuran and the only specimen from the Early Jurassic Period. Cryolophosaurus was a giant tetrapod dinosaur with a characteristic bizarre crest. It existed during the early Jurassic Period, which was around 188 to 194 million years ago.
It was one of the first feathered-predatory dinosaurs to evolve into a large body size. Only a single species of the genus, Cryolophosaurus, is known, and that’s the Cryolophosaurus ellioti.
In this article, we’ll answer questions like: how the could Cryolophosaurus successfully live in the cold climate of Antarctica, and what was the its diet, and how it became extinct.
Description and Size
The name Cryolophosaurus is derived from the Greek words κρυος (Kryos), which meant cold, λοφος (lofos), meaning crest, and σαυρος (savros), which meant lizard. Therefore, the name Cryolophosaurus meant “Cold Crest Lizard.”
The Cryolophosaurus is a large member of the early tetrapods. It was one of the first predatory dinosaurs to gain a large body size. They are recognized by the distinctive ‘pompadour’ crest on their head. The crest was informally named after Elvis Presley due to its resemblance to his haircut. It spanned from side to side on its head.
The Cryolophosaurus was one of the largest predators. While it existed, it weighed about 465kg (1025lbs). It was the largest theropod during its time. The Cryolophosaurus, like other T-rexs, had huge lower limbs, legs, relatively small upper limbs, and hands with claws. It is about 21ft (6.4m) tall and can reach a height of 26ft (8m). It had a strong whip-like tail for defense and aggression.
The Cryolophosaurus had a huge narrow skull of about 25inches long, with massive jaws and many advanced features. Its nasal crest rises and combs out to form the distinct crest. This feature made researchers consider it a tetanuran. Also, Its brain was discovered to be more primitive than those of other theropods.
The Cryolophosaurus has been speculated to have feathers like a bird. These feathers were speculated to have been used as an insulator against the cold temperature of Antarctica. This is a theory that Cryolophosaurus could have been warm-blooded like modern birds.
- Height – 21-26 ft
- Weight – 1,065 lbs
- Skin – Feathered
Diet- What Did Cryolophosaurus Eat?
The Cryolophosaurus was a carnivore. It was the first meat-eating dinosaur discovered in Antarctica. However, there have been no fossil remains for identifying stomach contents. But, it is evident that it had large and powerful jaws, sharp, strong teeth, and long claws that could grasp and tear their prey.
The Cryolophosaurus was a predator. It must have preyed on smaller plant-eating dinosaurs and might have preyed on the Glacialisaurus.
Habitat – When and Where Cryolophosaurus Lived
The Cryolophosaurus was a terrestrial animal. It existed about 188 to 194 million years ago. This was the Early Jurassic Period. This period was the second-longest of the three geologic periods. It was the Mesozoic Era — The Time of Dinosaurs.
Cryolophosaurus was discovered in Antarctica by Dr. William Hammer. Contrary to popular belief, Cryolophosaurus didn’t live in the frozen climate of Antarctica. This is because 194 million years ago, the climate in Antarctica was very different.
In the Mesozoic Era, during the Jurassic period, the Antarctica continent was closer to the equator. This was responsible for the warmer climate that made it habitable for the Cryolophosaurus.
Antarctica was a continent that teemed with forests and vegetation. It was a suitable environment for the carnivores and herbivores that lived there. However, it wasn’t as warm as the climate of tropical North America. But it was good enough for the survival of the Cryolophosaurus.
How Did the Cryolophosaurus Move?
The Cryolophosaurus demonstrated a bipedal movement like other T-rexs. The Cryolophosaurus had distinctly larger hindlimbs and shortened forelimbs that facilitated this.
The large and powerful legs with thick ankles are responsible for fast and sudden rapid predatory movements. The Cryolophosaurus’ large whip-like tail can also be used to knock down smaller prey.
While moving, the body of the Cryolophosaurus would have to be in a horizontal mode. The front and rear weight must have served as an equalizer for its bipedal stance.
The Cryolophosaurus’ Crest
The crest was informally referred to as the “Pompadour of Cryolophosaurus” and also called the Elvisaurus after Elvis Presley. This distinctive crest lies just above the eyes of the Cryolophosaurus. It rises perpendicular to the flat top of the skull and has a fan-like shape. As stated earlier, the crest rises from the nasal crest as an extension of its cranial bones.
The crest was not used for any defensive purpose other than species recognition. The crest was unique only to the Cryolophosaurus. Its attractive colors could have been used to attract the opposite sex for mating. The bright crest display could also be used to exhibit territoriality and dominance among the males.
Threats and Predators to the Cryolophosaurus
As the largest theropod during the early Jurassic Period, the Cryolophosaurus was an apex predator. This is why it’s speculated to have had no known predator.
However, the tyrannosaurus rex and spinosaurus were larger. So it’s possible they could have preyed on the Cryolophosaurus. But no evidence of the Cryolophosaurus being preyed on by the T-rex has been found.
The major threats to the Cryolophosaurus were natural disasters and other most likely Cryolophosaurus(s). The male Cryolophosaurus fights and competes with other males for food, territory, and mates. This fight could be fatal and lead to the death of the weaker ones.
Besides the intra-species threat, the main threats were natural disasters like forest fires, glaciations, and volcanic eruptions. Volcanic eruptions were reportedly responsible for the extinction of the Cryolophosaurus species.
Discoveries and Fossils – Where Cryolophosaurus fossils were found
The first fossils of the Cryolophosaurus were discovered around 1990 -1991 by the paleontologist William Hammer and his team. This was on Mount Kirkpatrick in the Beardmore Glacier Region of the Transantarctic Mountains, Antarctica. The fossils were found in the siliceous siltstone of the Hanson Formation. The Cryolophosaurus was the second dinosaur and the first theropod discovered in Antarctica. Antarctopelta was the first.
Later in 1991, paleontologist William Hammer and Ohio State University geologist David Elliott with their teams excavated the surface of the Beardmore Glacier. Elliot’s team came across the remains of Cryolophosaurus at the altitude of 4000m (13,000 ft) and about 640 km from the south pole.
It took a period of three weeks for Hammer’s team to excavate 2300kg of fossil-bearing rock. In the end, over 100 fossil bones were recovered. This includes a crushed skull, 30 vertebrate bones, and a few long bones. Hammer and Hickerson named the species, Cryolophosaurus ellioti. It was named after David Elliot for making the initial discovery of the fossil on the Beardmore Glacier.
Extinction– When Did It Die Out
The Cryolophosaurus became extinct about 65 million years ago towards the end of the Cretaceous period. This resulted from a mass extinction event known as the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event. This event brought about the extinction of three-quarters of plant and animal species on earth.
Aside from a few ectothermic species such as sea turtles and crocodiles, no tetrapods weighing more than 25 kg survived, Cryolophosaurus inclusive. This event marked the end of the cretaceous period and the Mesozoic era. It ushered in the beginning of the Cenozoic era, which continues to date.
There are notions raised that massive volcanic eruptions caused their extinction. However, the fact that the extinction was widespread and simultaneous made the asteroid impact more acceptable. The asteroid impact might have initiated other contributing factors like volcanic eruptions, climate change, and sea-level change.
Similar Animals to the Cryolophosaurus
The Cryolophosaurus was the largest tetrapod at the beginning of the Mesozoic era. Other similar but relatively smaller tetrapods that existed at this period were:
- Sinosaurus: The Sinosaurus is Greek for Chinese lizard. They are an extinct genus of the theropod dinosaur that existed during the early Jurassic Period. They were also bipedal carnivores. They were approximately 5-6 meters in length.
- Dracovenator: The Dracovenator is a genus of nethropod dinosaurs. They lived about 199 -201 million years ago during the Early Jurassic Period. They were medium-sized bipedal carnivores.
- Dilophosaurus: The Dilophosaurus is greek for two-crested lizards. A genus of theropod dinosaur that lived in present North America during the Early Jurassic Period. They are extinct. They lived about a 193million years ago.
The Cryolophosaurus is an important dinosaur for theropod evolution because its fossils were considered transitional. It seemingly connected the earliest tetrapods to the tetanuran that came after.
The Cryolophosaurus could have been an ancient predecessor to the modern-day Ostrich. This is because of the bird-like features of this dinosaur. Examples of these features are its feathers, three-toed feet, air-filled bones, and brooding of eggs.
However, there is no conclusive evidence that proves this point. So, it remains speculation in the scientific world. Understanding the position of the Cryolophosaurus in evolution is important. It is required to elucidate various evolutionary unknowns.
Asides from the Cryolophosaurus, there are other tetrapods with distinctive crests you might want to read up on. Click on the links below to access these articles:
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Daniel Eskridge/Shutterstock.com
FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
Are the Cryolophosaurus' crests useful in fights?
No. The crests aren’t strong like horns. They do not contain calcium carbonate as found in horns.
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