|Name Meaning||Lizard from Salta||Height||2.5 to 4 meters (8 to 13 feet)|
|Pronunciation||Sal-ta-sore-us||Length||6 to 12 meters (19.6 to 39.3 feet)|
|Era||Mesozoic – Late Cretaceous||Weight||2.5 metric tons (2.8 short tons)|
|Classification||Dinosauria, Saurischia & Sauropoda||Location||Argentina (South America)|
Commonly known as the Salta lizard, this small dinosaur with a body armored with bony plates is part of the Saltasaurus genus, which consists of one species, the Saltasaurus loricatus.
It’s a small sauropod that, apart from its bony plates, is renowned for having stubby limbs and a relatively short neck.
The creature inhabited Earth around 70-68 million years ago, during the Late Cretaceous period, and is thought to have roamed the territories of what we now call Argentina.
The first fossils belonging to a Saltasaurus were found between 1975 and 1977 in Argentina’s Estancia “El Brete.”
The species was first named and described in 1980.
The specific name, loricatus, translates as “protected by small armored plates,” indicating the dinosaur’s armored body.
Until the discovery of Saltasaurus fossils, no sauropods were known to possess body armor.
They were thought to be defenseless and smooth-skinned.
As such, the study of the Saltasaurus has significantly contributed to outlining the evolution and history of the sauropod group of dinosaurs.
Moreover, it provides unique insight into the world of dinosaurs living in the Southern Hemisphere.
As such, learning about their appearance, behavior, and distribution is of the essence in understanding the bigger picture of the world’s evolutionary history.
As we’ve already established, the Saltasaurus was a pretty small sauropod compared to other members of the clade.
It is estimated that the dinosaur reached an average length of 6 meters (19.6 feet), although rare specimens could’ve grown to 8-12 meters (26.2-39.3 feet).
The Brachiosaurus, for example, another sauropod that lived in the Late Jurassic, measured at least 18-22 meters (59-72 feet), being twice or even thrice as large as the Saltasaurus.
The Aptosaurus was even longer, it had an average length of 21-23 meters (69-75.4 feet).
The Saltasaurus was neither too heavy, weighing around 2.5 metric tons (2.8 short tons).
For comparison purposes, the Brachiosaurus weighed 28.3-46.9 metric tons (31.2-51.7 short tons), while the Aptosaurus weighed as much as 16.4-22.4 metric tons (18.1-24.7 short tons).
As such, we can observe that the weight isn’t dependent on the length, and while the other sauropods were twice or three times the length of the Saltasaurus, they could have a weight of ten or twenty times as much!
Therefore, it’s safe to state that the Saltasaurus was among the smallest sauropods.
Little is known about their height, but some sources list the species as being around 2.5 and 4 meters (8-13 feet) tall.
The Saltasaurus had a short neck; that is, if we compare it to other dinosaur species because, to the human eye, it doesn’t appear short at all! It had short and stubby limbs and a very wide belly.
Moreover, it had distinctive bony plates called osteoderms, presumably of two types.
Some were larger, had an oval shape, measured around 12 centimeters (4.7 inches), and were most likely arranged on the back in one or two longitudinal rows.
The dorsal surface of six recovered fossil plates had a conical shape, featuring multiple wrinkles, while the ventral surface was more flat.
The other armored structures are called intradermal ossicles.
They were much smaller, measuring up to 1 centimeter (0.4 inches), more rounded, and arranged between the larger plates in a continuous armor formation.
It is thought that they aimed to protect the posterior part of the body.
Paleontological discoveries show that 10 square centimeters (1.5 square inches) “housed” around 27 intradermal ossicles arranged irregularly in a mosaic design.
This design covered much of this dinosaur’s body.
One thing distinguishing the Saltasaurus from other dinosaur species is that it had vertebral lateral fossae resembling shallow depressions.
This can be observed in other titanosaurian sauropods, including Malawisaurus, Aeolosaurus, and Gondwanatitan.
Habitat and Distribution
We already know that the Saltasaurus was an inhabitant of what we now call Argentina.
More precisely, the fossils were recovered from the “El Brete” formation south of the Salta province.
Beyond this, very little is known about the species.
However, based on fossil-bearing sediments, some scientists concluded that these dinosaurs’ ecosystem consisted of a “fluvial-lacustrine coastal plain.”
Supposedly, it had abundant vegetation (which shouldn’t be surprising since the species was a herbivore) and frequent swamps.
The fact that the Saltasaurus habitat was semi-aquatic is also suggested by the animal’s body form.
Some scientists say the species had a hippopotamus form, supporting the belief that a semi-aquatic lifestyle shouldn’t be excluded.
By contrast, other titanosaurian sauropods had long, slender limbs.
Behavior and Diet
Some studies show that the Saltasaurus was a slow-moving dinosaur.
This conclusion is backed by the characteristics and proportions of what specialists call “the appendicular bones.”
In common terms, this refers to the bones that form the hands, arms, forearms, pelvis, thighs, and legs, to name a few.
In short, any bone that’s locomotion-related.
Another behavioral trait of the species is that adults likely gathered in groups to protect juveniles, while the adults relied on their body armor to defend themselves against predators.
Moreover, as already stated, the Saltasaurus was highly likely a semi-aquatic or even an aquatic species.
Regarding dietary choices, the Saltasaurus was a herbivore, just like other sauropods.
Fossil discoveries associated with titanosaurians living during the Late Cretaceous show that these creatures weren’t too picky and ate almost any plant they stumbled upon.
However, research shows that the discovered fossilized feces had a high content of plant remains from various monocotyledons, such as grasses and palms.
Besides this, they discovered plant remains from conifers and cycads, among others.
It is believed that all titanosaurs, the Saltasaurus included, had teeth unsuitable for chewing.
Furthermore, since they probably lacked stomach stones that ground food, it is thought that they stored plant matter for a long time in their stomachs.
Paleontological discoveries show that a female Saltasaurus laid around 25 eggs with a diameter of approximately 11-12 centimeters (4.3-4.7 inches).
The female most likely used its hindlimbs to dig holes, where the eggs were laid in clutches and buried under vegetation and dirt.
Some studies suggest that the hatching happened between 65 to 82 days after egg laying, but this information generally refers to all sauropods.
As such, there’s no confirmation that this is valid for Saltasaurus specimens.
Moreover, Saltasaurus dinosaurs and other sauropods are generally believed to have formed herds, which supports the belief that juveniles remained nearby adults after hatching.
However, since they were considered precocial, it’s unknown whether adult dinosaurs exhibited parental care.
Some scientists believe they did, others sustain they didn’t.
Besides this, some studies focusing on sauropod tooth wear suggest that the juvenile diet differed from the adult diet, which might have also influenced their herding strategies.
Evolution and History
In 1980, Bonaparte and Jaime E. Powell described the fossils discovered between 1975 and 1977 and named the genus and species they belonged to – Saltasaurus and Saltasaurus loricatus, respectively.
The holotype, meaning the physical example used to describe the species, consisted of two ilia (the largest part of the hip bone) and a sacrum (a bone at the spine base).
They were discovered in El Brete, in a geological formation called the Lecho Formation.
Paleontologists believe it belongs to the Late Cretaceous period, more precisely to the early Maastrichtian stage.
Over the years, two hundred other fossils were discovered, including teeth, neck, hip, back, and tail vertebrae, parts of the skull, pelvis, limb bones, and armor pieces.
These fossils are thought to belong to at least five adults and juveniles.
It was once believed that the Saltasaurus genus consisted of three species, the Saltasaurus loricatus, the Saltasaurus australis, and the Saltasaurus robustus.
However, the other two species were moved to a new genus, the Neuquensaurus, which is why the Saltasaurus is now often compared to the Nuequensaurus and is considered its closest relative, alongside Bonatitan and Rocasaurus.
Interactions with Other Species
Since the Saltasaurus was a herbivore, it likely had no business with other animals.
However, it’s unknown whether it was preyed upon by other creatures.
Studies show that, besides titanosaurian sauropods, the same locality from which saltasaur fossils were recovered was inhabited by theropod dinosaurs from the Noasauridae family.
These dinosaurs are believed to have been herbivorous, although some young specimens might have had an omnivorous or carnivorous diet.
Still, there’s no evidence that they hunted the Saltasaurus or confronted each other.
On the other hand, since paleontological research indicates that the Saltasaurus likely exhibited herding behavior, they might have faced some predators in their habitat.
Unfortunately, no scientific evidence would indicate what predator species shared their ecosystem.
Some sources state that the Abelisaurus might have been a predator of the Saltasaurus since it also inhabited Argentina.
However, it was alive around 83-80 million years ago, while the Saltasaurus lived between 70 and 68 million years ago.
Another carnivore that might have preyed upon the Saltasaurus is the Carnotaurus, which was a carnivore and inhabited what we now call Argentina around 71-69 million years ago.
However, the dietary choice of the Carnotaurus remains unknown.
Some scientists believe that the Carnotaurus preferred preying on large sauropods, while others support the idea that they relied only on small species.
As such, specialists can’t say for sure whether the Saltasaurus was a top choice in the Carnotaurus diet.
The Saltasaurus is most known in the entertainment world thanks to the ARK: Survival Evolved game.
More precisely, it is a creature in the Prehistoric Beasts Creature Mod.
It can also be seen in the Jurassic Park III: Park Builder game, where players can choose it as one of the Herbivore Twos.
Apart from this, the Saltasaurus doesn’t make a common appearance in the media.
However, the species is still subject to various studies that could lead to other significant discoveries about titanosaurians and sauropods in general!
The Saltasaurus was one of the few armored sauropods.
It was a herbivorous dinosaur, relatively small compared to others in the sauropod family, and was thought to have lived close to water sources.
It lived around 70-68 million years ago in a territory we now call Argentina.
Before the discovery of the fossils belonging to the Saltasaurus, no sauropods were known to possess body armor.
As such, this paleontological event opened the doors toward a clearer picture of the evolution and history of sauropods.
Needless to say, the Saltasaurus fossils provided exclusive insight into the dinosaur world of the Southern Hemisphere.
We can only hope that further research will reveal more details about our world’s evolutionary history!
Is There a Saltasaurus Skeleton?
Paleontological research led to the discovery of hundreds of Saltasaurus fossils, which helped scientists reconstruct various parts of this dinosaur’s skeleton.
How Fast Was Saltasaurus?
Although no scientific confirmation would make specialists 100% sure of this, saltasaurid appendicular bone characteristics indicate they might have been slow-moving animals.
Unfortunately, it is unknown what speeds they could reach while running.
Was Saltasaurus a Herbivore? What Did It Eat?
The Saltasaurus was a herbivorous animal. Its diet consisted of grasses and plants like cycads and conifers.