An Ultimate Guide to Parasaurolophus: Near Crested Lizard

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Name Meaning“Near Crested Lizard”Height4.9 meters (16 feet)
PronunciationPah-ruh-SAWR-uh-LOH-fusLength11.45 meters (37.6 feet)
EraMesozoicLate CretaceousWeight2.7 tons (5952 lbs)
ClassificationDinosauria,‭ Ornithischia‭ & OrnithopodaLocationUSA & Canada (North America)

Parasaurolophus Pictures

Parasaurolophus on white background
Parasaurolophus | Warpaintcobra via iStock

The Parasaurolophus

Gage Beasley Prehistoric's Parasaurolophus Concept
Gage Beasley Prehistoric’s Parasaurolophus Concept

Parasaurolophus is a genus of prehistoric ornithopod dinosaurs that inhabited North America during the Late Cretaceous Period, roughly 76 to 73 million years ago.

This fascinating dinosaur gained recognition for its distinctive, backward-curving cranial crest.

The name Parasaurolophus which means “near crested lizard,” refers to this unique head adornment. 

Parasaurolophus was first discovered in 1920.

The partial fossil of this dinosaur was recovered from Upper Cretaceous rocks near Sand Creek, Alberta, Canada.

Fossils have also been found in other locations outside Canada, such as New Mexico and Utah.

The "near crested lizard" Dinosaur Fossil
Parasaurolophus Dinosaur Fossil | Kevin Schafer via GettyImages

At least three species have been identified in the genus so far. 

This dinosaur’s striking appearance is one reason why it is so popular.

Scientists have long debated the enigmatic purpose of its cranial crest, which has fueled numerous hypotheses.

But there are other fascinating facts about this dinosaur too.

In this article, we will explore some of the known facts about Parasaurolophus and delve into the significance of its discovery.

Gage Beasley's Prehistoric Shirt Collection
Gage Beasley’s Prehistoric Shirt Collection
Gage Beasley's Prehistoric Plush Collection
Gage Beasley’s Prehistoric Plush Collection

Physical Characteristics

The "near crested lizard" from the Cretaceous era - 3D illustration
Parasaurolophus from the Cretaceous era – 3D illustration | Warpaintcobra via iStock

Parasaurolophus is a member of the family Hadrosauridae.

This group of Cretaceous dinosaurs (also known as duck-billed dinosaurs) are popular for the unique shape of their snout bones and diverse range of head adornment.

Parasaurolophus, like other hadrosaurid dinosaurs, also had a duck-bill snout, but the most distinctive feature of this dinosaur was its long and elaborate cranial crest. 

The six-foot-long (1.8 meters) crest protrudes from the rear of the dinosaur’s head and curves backward.

The crest was composed of a combination of bone and keratin. It is quite similar in shape to the crest of the Saurolophus, another Hadrosaurid dinosaur, which is what inspired the name Parasaurolophus (“close to Saurolophus” or “near Saurolophus”). 

Gage Beasley's Parasaurolophus Stuffed Plush Toy
Gage Beasley’s Parasaurolophus Stuffed Plush Toy

It is worth noting that despite their similarities, these two dinosaurs were not related and had notable physical differences.

For instance, the Saurolophus had a solid crest, but that of the Parasaurolophus was hollow, which suggests that they had different uses.

The beak of Parasaurolophus was also more narrow than that of the Saurolophus

The crest of Parasaurolophus is more comparable to that of the Corythosaurus or Lambeosaurus.

But it was longer and more tubular. 

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

The near-crested lizard was a relatively large dinosaur.

It grew to lengths of about 11.45 meters (37.6 feet) and weighed between two and three tons on average.

This dinosaur had a robust body with a barrel-shaped torso and a long, slender tail.

Its hind limbs were longer and more powerful than its forelimbs, indicating a predominantly bipedal stance with the possibility of quadrupedal movement. 

Habitat and Distribution

Parasaurolophus was a North American dinosaur genus.

Fossil discoveries show that it lived during the Late Cretaceous Period, and its geographic range is modern-day Alberta and Saskatchewan in Canada, down to New Mexico and Utah in the United States.

This distribution indicates that Parasaurolophus might have had a relatively wide distribution within the Western Interior of North America.

This region of North America was characterized by floodplains, river valleys, and low-lying coastal areas during the Late Cretaceous Period.

Parasaurolophus likely inhabited both forested regions and open plains, where it could find a variety of plant resources.

These areas had an abundance of vegetation, including ferns, conifers, cycads, and flowering plants, which served as a food source for herbivorous dinosaurs like the Parasaurolophus

Three "near crested lizards" stand on a rocky beach coastline
Three Parasaurolophus stand on a rocky beach coastline | Daniel Eskridge via iStock

During Parasaurolophus’ existence, the Western Interior of North America was characterized by a warm and humid climate.

The region experienced seasonal variations with distinct wet and dry seasons.

A large part of the North American landmass was covered by the Western Interior Seaway, which transgressed and regressed occasionally, shaping the ecosystem in the region.

The landscape was diverse, with large river systems, lush forests, and extensive coastal areas. Swamps and wetlands were also quite common. 

Behavior and Diet

Parasaurolophus was a hadrosaurid dinosaur, a diverse family of plant-eating animals with odd-shaped skulls
Parasaurolophus was a hadrosaurid dinosaur, a diverse family of plant-eating animals with odd-shaped skulls | Mark Garlick via GettyImages

Parasaurolophus was a predominantly bipedal dinosaur. It walked on two legs but was also capable of quadrupedal motion.

Its hind limbs were longer and more robust than its forelimbs, so it probably foraged for food on all fours but ran faster on two.

This long tail helped with balance while dinosaurs walked or ran. 

Although it primarily moved on land, scientists think Parasaurolophus may have been capable of swimming short distances, with some suggesting that the cranial crest was some sort of breathing tube similar to a snorkel. 

Parasaurolophus was a herbivore.

A herd of "near crested lizard" duckbill dinosaurs during Earth's Cretaceous period of modern day North America
A herd of Parasaurolophus duckbill dinosaurs during Earth’s Cretaceous period of modern-day North America | Mark Stevenson via GettyImages

This dinosaur’s diet probably consisted of a variety of vegetation, including low-lying plants, ferns, cycads, conifers, and flowering plants that were abundant in its habitat.

It had a beak-like mouth with rows of sharp teeth in the back for grinding plant material.

It used its beak to bite off vegetation, and its teeth helped break down the tough plant fibers. 

The Parasaurolophus’ mouth was packed with hundreds of small teeth located close to the front of the dinosaur’s mouth.

These teeth were constantly replaced as they eroded throughout the dinosaur’s lifetime. 

A flock of Pteranodon longiceps fly over a herd of "near crested lizard" dinosaurs as they look for better vegetation to eat.
A flock of Pteranodon longiceps fly over a herd of Parasaurolophus dinosaurs as they look for better vegetation to eat | CoreyFord via GettyImages

Parasaurolophus and other hadrosaurid dinosaurs may have exhibited some level of social behavior.

Herbivorous animals typically live in groups, which enhances protection against predators and also helps with cooperative foraging. 

Scientists think the Parasaurolophus’ elaborate crest may have been used as a communication device with the ability to produce distinct sounds or calls.

The hollow crest may have acted as a resonating chamber, allowing Parasaurolophus to produce low-frequency sounds that could have served for communication within its species or as a means of attracting mates.

This further supports the idea that this dinosaur exhibited herding and other forms of social behavior. 

Life Cycle

Discover the social nature of Parasaurolophus, as individuals likely lived in herds for protection and mating opportunities.
Discover the social nature of Parasaurolophus, as individuals likely lived in herds for protection and mating opportunities | MR1805 via iStock

Parasaurolophus and other hadrosaurs likely laid eggs to reproduce. The female ones would have laid their eggs in nests built on the ground.

Scientists think some hadrosaurs, such as Parasaurolophus, preferred upland nesting grounds. 

Fossil evidence of nests and egg clutches found in association with hadrosaur dinosaurs suggest that they cared for their nests and potentially exhibited some level of parental care after the eggs hatched.

Juvenile Parasaurolophus individuals were anatomically and proportionally similar to adult forms.

They developed rapidly, reaching maturity within a few years.

Experts think young Parasaurolophus may have walked on their hind legs while adults walked more on all fours.

As they grew, the forelimbs would become more robust to support the adult dinosaur’s weight. 

Evolution and History

Two Parasaurolophus dinosaurs bellow at each other to claim territory on a seacoast beach
Two Parasaurolophus dinosaurs bellow at each other to claim territory on a seacoast beach | CoreyFord via GettyImages

Parasaurolophus is a member of the family Hadrosauridae, which includes various genera of duck-billed dinosaurs.

The duck-billed dinosaurs evolved about 100 million years ago and were among the most successful dinosaur groups till the end of the Cretaceous. 

The postcranial skeleton and general body plan of the hadrosaurids remained morphologically consistent as they evolved.

But their skull and mandibular anatomy changed severally with many specialized innovations that varied from one species to the other.

These variations even exist within species in the same genus.

Within the hadrosaurid family, Parasaurolophus belongs to the subfamily Lambeosaurinae, characterized by its elaborate, hollow cranial crests.

3 Parasaurolophus on the run
3 Parasaurolophus on the run | Mark Garlick via GettyImages

Some of the closest relatives of this dinosaur within the subfamily include Corythosaurus, Lambeosaurus, and Hypacrosaurus.

The elaborate crest of the Parasaurolophus and other related dinosaurs evolved from simpler structures found in earlier hadrosaurs.

This crest underwent significant changes over time, with different species exhibiting variations in crest size and shape. 

Parasaurolophus and other lambeosaurines also evolved narrower beaks compared to the hadrosaurines.

This made it possible for them to feed more selectively compared, which would have favored their survival. 

Interactions With Other Species

A carnivorous Tyrannosaurus Rex chasing a herd of Parasaurolophus dinosaurs.
A carnivorous Tyrannosaurus Rex chasing a herd of Parasaurolophus dinosaurs | Mark Stevenson via GettyImages

As a large, relatively defenseless herbivore, Parasaurolophus would have been an ideal target for large carnivorous predators that lived in North America during the Late Cretaceous.

This includes predators like Gorgosaurus, Daspletosaurus, and other theropods. 

Parasaurolophus likely lived in herds or groups to ensure collective protection and enhance vigilance against predators.

The presence of large herds would have made it more challenging for individual predators to target and successfully capture one of them. 

Parasaurolophus would have competed with other herbivorous dinosaurs in its ecosystem.

This includes other hadrosaurs, such as Corythosaurus and Lambeosaurus, as well as other groups of herbivorous dinosaurs, like Centrosaurus, Pentaceratops, Chasmosaurus, and Styracosaurus.

These species likely competed for food resources which may have led to confrontations.

Cultural Significance

The "near crested lizard" in a landscape
Dinosaur Parasaurolophus in a landscape | MR1805 via iStock

Parasaurolophus is one of the most well-known hadrosaurid dinosaurs. Its distinctive long, backward-curving cranial crest makes it instantly recognizable to scientists, dinosaur enthusiasts, and the general public.

The unique appearance of this dinosaur is also why it is commonly featured in various dinosaur-related media, including toys, artwork, books, movies, and documentaries. 

Parasaurolophus has made appearances in iconic dinosaur films such as “Jurassic Park” and all its sequels. In these movies, it is often portrayed as a peaceful and majestic herbivore.

These depictions have contributed to the dinosaur’s continued popularity and recognition among the general public.

Parasaurolophus is also very important to scientific research.

Fossil discoveries and studies related to these dinosaurs have provided valuable insights into the anatomy, behavior, growth pattern, and ecology of hadrosaurid dinosaurs. 

Holotype specimen of P. walkeri, showing the pathologic v-shaped notch
Holotype specimen of P. walkeri, showing the pathologic v-shaped notch | missbossy via Wikipedia CC BY 2.0

The striking appearance of this dinosaur and the purpose of its cranial crest have fueled scientific curiosity, leading to numerous hypotheses regarding its function.

Scientists have proposed both physiological and behavioral uses for this cranial crest.

Possible physiological uses include thermoregulation and olfactory function.

It may have also served behavioral purposes, such as being used as a resonating chamber that produced low-frequency sounds which helped with communication or species identification.  

So far, three species of Parasaurolophus have been identified, each of them showing notable differences, especially in the morphology of their cranial crest.

Future discoveries and further research may reveal even more interesting facts about these dinosaur species and how they lived. 


Parasaurolophus was a large herbivorous dinosaur that lived during the Late Cretaceous Period.

This dinosaur lived in North America, specifically in the United States and Canada, between 76 and 73 million years ago.

Parasaurolophus was a herbivore that fed a variety of vegetation, including ferns, cycads, and other plants. 

The most distinctive feature of this hadrosaurid dinosaur is its distinctive, backward-curving cranial crest.

This hollow crest has been severally studied by scientists, and various purposes have been proposed for it.

It may have served a wide range of purposes, including thermoregulation, communication, or species recognition. 

Research is still ongoing about this and other interesting aspects of this dinosaur’s anatomy and behavior.

In the future, we might finally find a conclusive answer to the function of the Parasaurolophus’ enigmatic crest. 


Could Parasaurolophus defend itself?

Parasaurolophus was a herbivore with no body armor and other significant defenses.

However, they were herd animals which may have helped with protection against predators.

The Parasaurolophus’ tail was also quite thick and rigid. They may have used this tail to defend themselves against predators.

What does the name “Parasaurolophus” mean?

The name “Parasaurolophus” is of Greek origin and means “near or almost crested lizard.”

It refers to the dinosaur’s distinctive cranial crest, which looks very similar to that of another crested dinosaur known as Saurolophus.

Who hunted Parasaurolophus?

Parasaurolophus shared a habitat with several predator species that may have preyed on it.

Some of them include Gorgosaurus, Albertosaurus, Bistahieversor, and Teratophoneus.

It was a large herd animal which would have made them challenging prey for predators.

But young and weak individuals were probably easy targets for attackers.

What did Parasaurolophus eat?

Parasaurolophus was a herbivorous dinosaur that primarily fed on plant material. Its diet consisted of a variety of vegetation, including ferns, cycads, and other prehistoric plants available in its environment during the Late Cretaceous.


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