An Ultimate Guide to Guanlong: The Crowned Dragon

Leave a comment / / Updated on: 24th September 2023

Name Meaning“Crown dragon”Height1.5 meters (5 feet)
PronunciationGwan-longLength3 meters (10 feet)
EraMesozoicLate JurassicWeight125 kg (276 lbs)
ClassificationDinosauria, Saurischia, & TheropodaLocationChina (Asia)

Guanlong Pictures

Guanlong | Nobumichi Tamura via GettyImages

The Guanlong

Gage Beasley Prehistoric's Guanlong Concept
Gage Beasley Prehistoric’s Guanlong Concept

A relative of the famous Tyrannosaurus lived in East Asia during the Late Jurassic Period. 

The Guanlong was a mid-sized theropod dinosaur that inhabited the Dzungaria region of China about 160 million years ago. 

It was a primitive tyrannosaur that showed features not seen in the younger tyrannosaurids like the T. rex that evolved after it. 

The name Guanlong is derived from the Chinese words for “crown” and “dragon.”

It refers to the striking crest on the dinosaur’s head, which is the most elaborate head adornment in any theropod dinosaur. 

This dinosaur is only known from two specimens discovered at the same time. 

The paratype specimen IVPP V14532, with its skull removed
The paratype specimen IVPP V14532, with its skull removed | Kabacchi  via Wikipedia CC BY 2.0

The two fossils were discovered on top of each other. 

They were preserved in fairly good condition, painting a nearly complete picture of one of Asia’s top predators during the Cretaceous Period

In this article, we’ll discuss some of the interesting attributes of this dinosaur, describing what it looked like, where it lived, how it lived, and its significance to paleontological research.  

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Physical Characteristics

Guanlong was a relatively small theropod dinosaur distantly related to the T. rex and other tyrannosaurid dinosaurs. 

But it wasn’t your typical tyrannosaur. 

It had a slender and agile build compared to the more massive tyrannosaurs that evolved after it but shared some similar anatomical features as well. 

Gage Beasley Prehistoric's Guanlong Size Comparison Chart
Gage Beasley Prehistoric’s Guanlong Size Comparison Chart

Guanlong was about 3 to 3.5 meters long (9.8–11.5 feet) and weighed roughly 125 kilograms (276 pounds) on average. 

Instead of the short, almost vestigial forelimbs that the tyrannosaurs are known for, Guanlong had long arms with three-fingered hands that would have been efficient for grabbing or holding on to prey. 

But the most talked-about attribute of this dinosaur has to be the prominent crest on its head. 

The crest, formed by a bony extension of the Guanlong’s snout, grew from its nostrils all the way to the eye sockets, giving the dinosaur a striking appearance.

Only a few theropod dinosaurs, such as the Dilophosaurus and Monolophosaurus, had cranial crests like this. 

The Guanlong’s crest was thin and delicate, measuring about five to six centimeters high on average. 

Body restoration of Guanlong
Body restoration of Guanlong | Durbed via Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0

It was too thin and flimsy to serve as a weapon, so experts think it was primarily for display purposes, like the ornamental crests seen in some birds like hornbills and cassowaries. 

Guanlong did share some similarities with other tyrannosaurids. 

The shape of this dinosaur’s teeth and the structure of its pelvis shows that it was a tyrannosaurid theropod. 

Scientists also think the Guanlong had body feathers like many of the other theropod dinosaurs. 

It closely resembled the Dilong, another primitive tyrannosaurid dinosaur known to have had a coat of feathers.

Habitat and Distribution

Guanlong lived in parts of present-day China during the Late Jurassic Period (approximately 160 million years ago). 

The only fossils of this dinosaur discovered so far were from the Shishugou Formation in northwestern China. 

This suggests that the dinosaur’s range covered this region. 

The area where this dinosaur lived during the Late Jurassic was characterized by a diverse environment, including lush forests and floodplains with extensive river systems. 

During this time, that region of Asia was relatively low-lying and covered with vegetation that provided suitable habitats for different groups of dinosaurs, including Guanlong.

Late Jurassic China was characterized by a warm and humid climate. 

The global climate during this time was relatively stable, but the sea levels were quite high. 

This created shallow seas that extended into the continents and were bordered by lush forests and fertile floodplains or marshlands. 

Behavior and Diet

Head restoration of Guanlong
Head restoration of Guanlong | Image via Wikipedia CC BY 2.5

Like other tyrannosaurs, Guanlong was a bipedal dinosaur. 

This means it walked on its two hind limbs.  

This dinosaur had long, slender legs and a lightweight build, suggesting it was probably an agile runner. 

The Guanlong’s forelimbs were longer compared to that of other tyrannosaurid dinosaurs. 

The dinosaur may have supported its weight on its forelimbs, occasionally taking up a quadrupedal stance. 

The exact social behavior of Guanlong is not well-known from the fossil record. 

However, based on the behavior of other related theropods, it’s likely that the Guanlong lived and hunted in groups. 

The two Guanlong specimens found so far were discovered in the same place. 

However, experts think both dinosaurs died at different times from the same circumstances and likely never interacted in real life. 

The likely theory is that they both fell into a muddy pit and were trapped. 

The small individual got trapped first and was probably dead when the adult arrived. 

Guanlong fossil
Guanlong fossil | Kabacchi via Wikipedia CC BY 2.0

The fossil appeared to have been trampled by the adult but was relatively intact.  

Guanlong was a medium-sized carnivorous dinosaur whose diet included smaller dinosaurs, mammals, and reptiles in its ecosystem. 

It’s also possible that they ate fish and insects too. 

Not a lot is known about the hunting and feeding strategy of this dinosaur. 

Guanlong was most likely an opportunistic predator, which means it hunted and fed on whatever food sources were available in its environment. 

The lush forests and river systems of its Late Jurassic habitat would have provided a variety of potential prey animals. 

To hunt prey, this dinosaur probably leveraged its speed and agility. 

It had sharp claws that could tear into flesh, and its long forelimbs may have also helped with dismembering prey. 

Life Cycle

Guanlong reproduced through sexual reproduction like other dinosaurs. 

Mating may have involved elaborate courtship displays using their gracile cranial crest. 

Guanlong as a bipedal dinosaur
Guanlong as a bipedal dinosaur | MorphGuy via PrehistoricKingdom Fandom

Their crest was probably brightly colored and would have helped to attract suitable mates. 

After mating, females laid eggs in well-protected nests where they would be incubated until they hatched. 

The Guanlong likely exhibited some level of parental care, similar to modern birds.

Hatchlings were relatively small and vulnerable and would have required parental care. 

Juvenile Guanlong individuals looked slightly different from adult forms. 

Their crest was restricted to just the snout and was proportionally shorter. 

They also had larger orbits, and their limb proportions were different from that of adults. 

Adult Guanlong
Adult Guanlong | Falconexk123 via DinopediaFandom

As they grew older and went through different stages of growth, these differences in their body parts would have changed to look more like the adult forms. 

Although it is challenging to determine the exact lifespan of this dinosaur, it is believed to have lived for more than 12 years. 

The adult of the Guanlong was at least 12 years old when it died, while the juvenile specimen was about six years old.

Evolution and History

Guanlong was a primitive or early member of the tyrannosaurid group. 

It was an early offshoot of the main evolutionary branch that gave rise to the tyrannosaurids during the Jurassic Period. 

Basal dinosaurs like this often exhibit primitive characteristics that set them apart from their more derived relatives. 

Guanlong in habitat
Guanlong in habitat | Elena Hartley via GettyImages

For instance, the Guanlong was relatively small and had long three-fingered forelimbs. 

This is a sharp contrast to the short 2-digit forelimbs of the tyrannosaurids that evolved later. 

Guanlong is closely related to other early tyrannosaurids, such as the Dilong and Eotyrannus

These basal groups lived during the Late Jurassic and Early Cretaceous Period and would eventually give rise to the much bigger and well-known tyrannosaurs such as the T. rex

The Guanlong itself likely descended from even smaller primitive coelurosaurs.

Given its size and unique skeletal adaptations, Guanlong is considered an intermediate form between the early primitive coelurosaurs and the larger tyrannosaurids that evolved later in the Cretaceous.

Interactions With Other Species

Guanlong in forest
Guanlong in forest | Disneysaurus via DinopediaFandom

Guanlong lived in a forested area with an abundance of conifers, ferns, and other primitive plants.

This lush forest and its river systems supported a variety of animals, including small mammals, turtles, reptiles, and dinosaurs. 

Some of the smaller members of this prehistoric fauna may have served as prey for the Guanlong

This may have included ornithischian dinosaurs like the Hualianceratops and Yinlong

Similarly-sized theropods like the Haplocheirus and Zuolong lived alongside the Guanlong and may have competed for the same prey, territory, and other resources. 

Some larger predators, such as the 25-foot-long Sinraptor and 16-foot-long Monolophosaurus, were also present in the same region where this dinosaur lived. 

Given their size difference, they may have preyed on the Guanlong occasionally. 

Cultural Significance

Feathered Guanlong
Feathered Guanlong | Andreone93 via DinopediaFandom

Guanlong is a notable fossil species mainly because of its distinctive appearance and its evolutionary position as a basal tyrannosaurid. 

While it isn’t as popular as the ferocious tyrannosaurid predators that lived during the Late Cretaceous Period, such as the T. rex, basal dinosaurs like this are considered very important to paleontologists. 

Guanlong is one of the earliest and best-preserved members of the tyrannosaurid group. 

Studying primitive dinosaurs like this has provided scientists valuable insights into the early stages of tyrannosaurid evolution. 

It also sheds some light on the different morphological changes that occurred within this lineage during their evolution into the form we are more familiar with today.

Studying the environment where the Guanlong evolved and lived also provides valuable information about the Late Jurassic ecosystems in Asia—a region that has reported relatively few tyrannosaurid dinosaurs. 

Certain aspects of this dinosaur’s appearance, especially its distinctive cranial crest, make it an intriguing dinosaur for enthusiasts. 

While it is not as represented in media production as the larger tyrannosaurids, Guanlong has appeared in documentaries, scientific literature, and other media productions that explore dinosaurs and prehistoric life in general. 

Guanlong in Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs
Guanlong in Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs | Image via IceAgeWiki

One of the most notable appearances of this dinosaur in mainstream media is in Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs. 

In the movie, the Guanlong survived the extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs and was depicted as a ferocious hunter trying to kill a pregnant mammoth. 

To give them a voracious appearance, the Guanlong in the movie had some of their features altered. 

For instance, they had sickle toe claws similar to that of the Velociraptor than to what they had in life. 


Guanlong is one of the earliest tyrannosaurs discovered so far. 

This medium-sized dinosaur lived during the Late Jurassic Period and was smaller in size compared to their close relatives that evolved several million years later.

Guanlong is known for its prominent cranial crust, which is the most elaborate seen in any theropod dinosaur.

The crest probably helped with the mating display or species recognition. 

The dinosaur’s name, which translates as “crown dragon,” is a reference to this crest. 

Guanlong was a meat-eater that hunted small to medium-sized prey in the floodplains and forests of Jurassic Asia. 

While this dinosaur is known from only two fossil individuals, they were found in a good preservation state. 

Studying the fossils of this basal tyrannosaurid has provided scientists with a wealth of information about the evolution of the tyrannosaurids. 

It has also helped us to understand how the ancestors of the apex predators of the Cretaceous Period lived when they were significantly smaller. 


When was Guanlong discovered?

Guanlong was discovered in 2002 during a joint expedition by the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP) of China and the American Museum of Natural History.

Who named Guanlong?

Guanlong was named by Xu Xing, Wang Xiaolin, and You Hailu in 2006. 

The scientific paper describing the discovery and naming of Guanlong was published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

Was Guanlong a raptor?

No, Guanlong was not a raptor. 

While Guanlong and raptors (members of the dromaeosaurid group, like Velociraptors) are theropod dinosaurs, they belong to different subgroups within the larger theropod clade. 

Guanlong is an early member of the tyrannosaurid group, while raptors belong to the dromaeosaurid group.

They have distinct characteristics and evolutionary histories, despite both being a carnivorous dinosaur


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