An Ultimate Guide to Psittacosaurus: The Parrot Lizard

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

Name MeaningParrot LizardHeight0.6 meters (2 ft.)
PronunciationSIT-a-ka-SOR-əsLength2 meters (6.7 ft.) 
EraMesozoicEarly CretaceousWeight30 to 100 kgs. (66 to 220 lbs.)
ClassificationDinosauria,‭ Ornithischia, & CeratopsiaLocationChina, Mongolia, Russia

Psittacosaurus Pictures

Psittacosaurus mongoliensis, a prehistoric era dinosaur from the Early Cretaceous period
Psittacosaurus mongoliensis, a prehistoric era dinosaur from the Early Cretaceous period | Sergey Krasovskiy via GettyImages

The Psittacosaurus

Gage Beasley Prehistoric's Psittacosaurus Concept
Gage Beasley Prehistoric’s Psittacosaurus Concept

Psittacosaurus is a ceratopsian dinosaur that lived during the Early Cretaceous period, around 126 to 101 million years ago.

These dinosaurs lived in Asia, and there have been more than several fossil specimens found in places like China, Mongolia, and Russia.

The abundance and near completeness of many Psittacosaurus fossils have allowed these species to be studied in-depth.

The earliest Ceratopsians, which include Psittacosaurus, began to emerge at the beginning of the Cretaceous period and began to evolve until their extinction came at the end of the dinosaur age. 

Psittacosaurus is an important dinosaur in understanding the ancestors of dinosaurs like Triceratops and also how ceratopsians evolved to better survive the dangerous predators they lived with.

3D render of a Psittacosaurus
3D render of a Psittacosaurus (meaning “parrot Lizard”) who lived in the Early Cretaceous Period | LindaMarieB via iStock

There are a lot of differences and similarities between early ceratopsians like Psittacosaurus and the dinosaurs that came millions of years later.

This article will cover some of the amazing things learned about Psittacosaurus, like what they ate, where they lived, and how they fit into their prehistoric ecosystem. 

Paleontologists are always making new discoveries, and Psittacosaurus was one of the most important in understanding the Ceratopsian family. 

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

Physical Characteristics

Psittacosaurus being an early ceratopsian, is much smaller than their relatives that would come later on. 

There are around 17 species of Psittacosaurus known but only around 9 to 11 are considered valid. 

While there are slight differences between the species, they have many similarities. 

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

Psittacosaurus is able to reach up to 2 meters (6.5 feet) in length, and as adults, weigh around 20 kgs. (44 lbs.) on average.

The size of Psittacosaurus depended on their species, with the largest of them being P. lujiatunenesis, and P. sibiricus, while the smallest is considered P. ordosensis.

Psittacosaurus skull was very specialized, and they had a tall head that was short in length, with a bird-like beak for a mouth. 

Compared to other ceratopsians that would evolve later in the Cretaceous period, this genus walked on two legs and had very small front arms that only had four digits on their hands.

Horns appeared on some species like P. sibiricus, but it is not believed these dinosaurs had any prominent neck frills. 

The discovery of a specimen found in China preserved some of the skin of these dinosaurs and revealed they had scaly skin covering most of their body.

Skulls of the fossils found of Psittacosaurus are why there are so many species, and while their skulls differed, their mouths resemble parrots. 

Habitat and Distribution

Psittacosaurus lived in Mongolia and China during the early Cretaceous period, around 100 million to 122 million years ago.

Fossils discovered of this species revealed they likely lived in dense forest habitats with very little light. 

Psittacosaurus preserved skin suggested these animals were counter-shaded with markings on them that helped them blend into the forest habitat. 

Studies done in 2016 on a well-preserved fossil suggest these dinosaurs had stripes and spots on them, similar to deer, which helped them hide within forests with diffused light. 

The fossils from this genus not only allowed paleontologists to better learn more about these dinosaurs but also helped create one of the most accurate depictions of a dinosaur genus to date. 

The fossils from Psittacosaurus have been discovered in sites within Dundgovi (Mongolia), Inner Mongolia, and Russia. 

The Yixian Formation in China is where the largest abundance of fossils from Psittacosaurus was found, with more than 200 specimens uncovered in these regions. 

Behavior and Diet

Psittacosaurus dinosaurs were herbivores, and their parrot-like beaks may have been used to crack nuts
Psittacosaurus dinosaurs were herbivores, and their parrot-like beaks may have been used to crack nuts | Roger Harris via GettyImages

Living in their forest environments, Psittacosaurus was a herbivore that used its sharp beak to feed on almost any plant it came across. 

Psittacosaurus had self-sharpening teeth that were used for chopping vegetation and biting through thick plants.

These dinosaurs were not adept at chewing their food but instead used stomach stones to help them digest the food they eat.

Fossils from these dinosaurs have been found with up to 50 stones inside their abdominal cavities, and it is possible these dinosaurs had gizzards to store their stomach stones.

Gastroliths are another name used for the stomach stones these dinosaurs used to digest their food, and this evolutionary trait is common in herbivorous birds and other reptiles like alligators. 

Psittacosaurus cute jaws
Psittacosaurus cute jaws | CoreyFord via iStock

The jaws of Psittacosaurus did not have curved beaks like other ceratopsians but had round and flat ends. 

These dinosaurs’ jaws would have been better used for chopping through vegetation but could have also been useful for cracking nuts. 

The limbs of Psittacosaurus were not very useful, and they would have been too weak to dig or grasp food. 

Cycads, ferns, and other types of prehistoric plants are what the Psittacosaurus would have foraged for. 

Life Cycle

The many fossils from Psittacosaurus have allowed paleontologists to better examine the life cycle and growth rate of these dinosaurs when compared with other genus. 

There have been several juvenile Psittacosaurus discovered, and even a hatchling that measured around 11 to 13 cm (4.3 to 5.1 in.) long, with a skull around 2.4 cm (0.94 in.) in length.

Psittacosaurus with her babies
Psittacosaurus with her babies | CoreyFord via iStock

There was a study done using a three-year-old Psittacosaurus with a weight of around 1 kg (2.2 lbs.) and an older specimen that was nine years old and weighing 20 kg. (44 lbs.), and many other specimens aged in between that analyzed the growth rate of these dinosaurs. 

Psittacosaurus had a very rapid growth rate when compared with other reptiles but slower growth rates when compared with birds and placental mammals. 

Based on the various fossils found around Asia, Psittacosaurus is estimated to have a life span of around 10 to 11 years.

Psittacosaurus, like other dinosaurs, started out their lives in eggs, and after hatching from their nest, there has been evidence suggesting they lived in groups. 

After hatching, their mother cared for them, it is still unknown whether these dinosaurs always lived in large groups when they could care for themselves. 

Evolution and History

Psittacosaurus dinosaur skeleton isolated on white
Psittacosaurus dinosaur skeleton isolated on white | Gilmanshin via iStock

The first fossil of Psittacosaurus was discovered in 1923 by Henry Fairfield Osberon, and he was also the one who named the type species P. mongoliensis.

Discovered in Mongolia, the type specimen of Psittacosaurus was a nearly complete skull and a post-cranial skeleton without its limbs.

The “parrot lizard” Psittacosaurus were named due to their similarity in face structure to parrots.

The expedition that Psittacosaurus also was where the discovery of other famous dinosaurs occurred, such as Oviraptor, Velociraptor, and Protoceratops

Psittacosaurus dinosaurs date from the Aptian to Albian stages of the early Cretaceous period, and they are an example of early ceratopsians. 

The earliest known ceratopsian is Yinlong downsi, which lived around 158 million years ago in the Late Jurassic period and also had many similar traits to Psittacosuarus, like their smaller size and bipedal walking. 

Psittacosaurus | Warpaintcobra via iStock

There have been 17 species of Psittacosaurus named, but today there are only around 9 to 11 that are valid, and this genus has the most valid species of any non-avian dinosaur.

Species of Psittacosaurus include:

  • P. sinensis
  • P. xinjiangensis
  • P. meileyingensis
  • P. sattayaraki
  • P. neimongoliensis
  • P. ordosensis
  • P. mazongshanensis
  • P. sibiricus
  • P. lujiatunensis
  • P. major
  • P. houi
  • P. gobiensis
  • P. amitabha

The skull, teeth, and pelvis of Psittacosaurus species are what caused paleontologists to differentiate the specimens found, but there are still clarifications needed on many of the species named.

Interactions with Other Species

Psittacosaurus finding its way into the forest | Image via Pinterest

Psittacosaurus was a herbivorous dinosaur, and when compared with other ceratopsians, these dinosaurs did not have any notable defense to help protect them from predators. 

Fossils suggest these dinosaurs were prey animals fed on by other dinosaurs and carnivorous mammals. 

Skeletons from the ancient mammal Repenomamus robustus have been found with skeleton fragments of Psittacosaurus in their stomach.

Repenomamus was the first known mammal that is known to feed on dinosaurs, and Psittacosaurus also likely had other predators. 

These dinosaurs were preyed on by various other carnivores, and it is believed they adapted by having a very quick growth rate and giving birth to multiple young. 

Prehistoric crocodiles and carnivorous raptors are some of the many predators that attacked Psittacosaurus, and being so vulnerable is what caused ceratopsians to evolve into having more defenses. 

Cultural Significance

Psittacosaurus lujiatunensis lurking in the wild
Psittacosaurus lujiatunensis lurking in the wild | Nobumichi Tamura via GettyImages

When looking at the ceratopsians, Psittacosaurus has been essential in learning about these dinosaurs’ evolution process. 

The abundance of fossils of Psittacosaurus has allowed paleontologists to accurately depict this dinosaur, much more so than any other non-avian genus in the world. 

There are more species described of Psittacosaurus than any other dinosaur, and while some species are no longer valid, there may be new ones described in the future. 

The near completeness of Psittacosaurus fossils and the several growth stages have given scientists an opportunity to study the growth rates of these dinosaurs, which is typically not possible with rare specimens. 

There have been several fossils of Psittacosaurus that have managed to progress the knowledge known of dinosaurs overall, and their abundance is why they are such an important dinosaur. 


Psittacosaurus was one of the earliest known ceratopsians in the Cretaceous period and helped paleontologists understand how ceratopsians looked in their early stages. 

Ceratopsians are known from the very end of the Jurassic period, and Psittacosaurus resemble these early relatives. 

Dinosaurs like Triceratops, and Protceratops are much more advanced than Psittacosaurus, as these dinosaurs began to diversify later into the Cretaceous period. 

When compared with other fossils, there has been an abundance of specimens found of Psittacosaurus, with many of them being nearly complete.

The smaller size and desert regions these dinosaur fossils were found in making them much more likely to be favored in the fossilization process. 

There is still lot to learn about Psittacosaurus, and in the future, what is currently accepted may change with further studies. 

Psittacosaurus is one of the most well-studied dinosaurs and helped give insight into how dinosaurs ate, what type of skin they had, and the changes certain suborders saw over time as their environment evolved. 

The extinction of Psittacosaurus is relatively unknown, but it is thought these dinosaurs died out due to the numerous predators that preyed on them and their inability to evolve into more adept species. 

Psittacosaurus is a very amazing dinosaur, and like all prehistoric animals hold many mysteries that can only be discovered by examining the rare fossils they leave behind. 


Were Psittacosaurus smart dinosaurs?

It was first believed that Psittacosuarus had a similar EQ score with other ceratopsians, but a study in 2007 suggested these dinosaurs had a more advanced brain than other similar dinosaurs of their time.

Psittacosaurus had an EQ score of around 0.31, which was much higher than dinosaurs like the Triceratops, and gave them the ability to have complex behaviors. 

Dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus had EQ ranges estimated between 0.30 to 0.38, so Psittacosuarus would have had similar abilities to process thought as this superpredator. 

Did Psittacosaurus have feathers?

Psittacosaurus fossils showed these dinosaurs had quills running along their back and down their tail.

The Psittacosaurus was mostly scaly, but fossils with quill remains suggest these dinosaurs had what was likely an early example of feathers

How good were Psittacosaurus senses?

The large eyes of Psittacosaurus would have given them great vision and allowed them to be active in periods during the day and night.

The smell was another trait this dinosaur had that was highly evolved, and coupled with their great vision, and their senses helped increase their survival rate from predators and find more food.


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