|Name Meaning||“Horned Demon from the River Styx”||Height||1 meter (3 feet)|
|Pronunciation||STIH-jih-MOE-lock||Length||2.5 to 3 meters (8 to 10 feet)|
|Era||Mesozoic – Late Cretaceous||Weight||200 to 400 kg (440 to 880 lbs)|
|Classification||Dinosauria, Ornithischia & Theropoda||Location||USA (North America)|
Stygimoloch was a plant-eating pachycephalosaurid dinosaur that lived during the Late Cretaceous period about 68 to 65 million years ago.
The dinosaur’s name translates as “the Styx demon.” The terrifying name of this dinosaur is due to its heavily ornamental skull, which had spikes and knobs that resemble depictions of the biblical devil.
Stygimoloch lived in North America and was first discovered in 1983 at Hell Creek, in Montana. This dinosaur genus remains a controversial one.
While it is often classified as a distinct genus, many scientists believe this was not a separate genus. Instead, it is simply a juvenile individual of the Pachycephalosaurus genus.
With a body length of just 2.5 to 3 meters (8 to 10 feet), Stygimoloch was a relatively small dinosaur.
It stood at just one meter (three feet) tall at the hips and weighed between 200 and 400 kilograms (440 to 880 pounds).
The small size of this dinosaur has prompted speculations that it was a juvenile individual rather than a full-sized adult.
Stygimoloch had a compact and robust body structure. It had long hind limbs and short forelimbs, suggesting that it was a bipedal dinosaur that moved primarily on its strong and muscular hind limbs.
The skull of this dinosaur is its most prominent feature. Stygimoloch belongs to the Pachycephalosauridae family of dinosaurs.
Members of this group are known for their extremely thick skulls, and the Stygimoloch was not an exception.
Scientists believe these dinosaurs used their head ornaments for defensive purposes. Males of the species may have also head-butted each other during mating season for the right to mate with females.
However, what set Stygimoloch apart from other members of its family were the numerous small, sharp spikes and horn-like projections that covered its skull.
These spikes and horns varied in shape and size, with some pointing backward and others projecting upward or to the sides.
Stygimoloch also had large bony plates, called osteoderms, along its neck and back. These osteoderms were small and had rough textures.
Although they were not as prominent as the spikes on the dinosaur’s skull, the osteoderms added to the dinosaur’s striking appearance.
Many scientists now consider Stygimoloch to be a juvenile form of the Pachycephalosaurus.
They both share a similar domed structure, but the Pachycephalosaurus lacked the elaborate spikes seen on the head of Stygimoloch.
To explain this difference, scientists think the skulls of juvenile Pachycephalosaurus changed significantly as they aged. This would explain why the older forms (Pachycephalosaurus) did not have any spikes.
Habitat and Distribution
Stygimoloch lived in North America during the Late Cretaceous period. Specifically, it was alive approximately 68 to 65 million years ago.
Fossils of this dinosaur have been found in the Western Interior of North America in regions around Montana, Wisconsin
During the Late Cretaceous, the region where Stygimoloch lived was characterized by a warm and humid climate.
North America was situated closer to the equator at that time, resulting in higher temperatures compared to present-day conditions.
The Hell Creek formation, where fossils of this dinosaur were found, had a mild subtropical climate
The ecosystem of the Late Cretaceous in North America was diverse and supported a wide array of flora and fauna.
Different groups of dinosaurs flourished and dominated the North American landscape.
The Stygimoloch lived alongside several other dinosaur groups, including the Triceratops, tyrannosaurs, hadrosaurs, and ankylosaurs.
Behavior and Diet
With hind limbs longer than its forelimbs, Stygimoloch walked and ran on its two hind legs, meaning it was bipedal.
The dinosaur was capable of fast and agile locomotion, which is expected for a herbivorous dinosaur that had to evade prey.
Although there is no direct evidence that Stygimoloch exhibited group or herding behavior, scientists believe pachycephalosaurids lived in small groups or herds similar to big horn ships, mountain goats, and other herbivores.
One notable evidence of such group behavior is the possession of a domed skull reinforced with skeletal materials.
Scientists have found evidence of osteomyelitis in the skull bones of several specimens. This bone infection is a common result of trauma and confirms members of this genus engaged in an intraspecies fight.
Stygimoloch was herbivorous, meaning it fed on plant materials. This dinosaur had small, leaf-shaped teeth suitable for cropping or slicing vegetation.
Late Cretaceous North America had an abundance of palms, conifers, cycads, and possibly flowering plants. It is likely the Stygimoloch had a varied diet that included these plants.
Like many other herbivorous dinosaurs, Stygimoloch used its beak-like jaws for cutting or stripping leaves from branches.
Given the height of this dinosaur, it would have employed a grazing or low-browsing strategy to obtain vegetation in its habitat.
No adult Stygimoloch fossil has been discovered so far. This has led to speculations that Stygimoloch was the juvenile form of the Pachycephalosaurus.
Coincidentally, scientists have not found any juvenile fossil of the Pachycephalosaurus, adding further credence to the hypothesis that both dinosaurs are just different growth stages of the same dinosaur.
The young Stygimoloch is characterized by a reduced dome and large spikes. As they grew, the dome would have become more pronounced, making the spikes less prominent.
The largest or most mature individuals in the herd would have had the biggest cranial domes, giving them access to mate with more females during mating seasons.
Mating season within the Stygimoloch herd may have involved head-butting and other forms of intraspecific mating rituals.
After mating, females probably laid eggs in communal nests. After hatching, juveniles may have needed parental care for a short period before going off to live on their own.
Evolution and History
Stygimoloch belongs to the family Pachycephalosauridae, a group of herbivorous dinosaurs known for their thickened and domed skulls.
Members of this family first evolved during the Late Jurassic period and diversified significantly during the Cretaceous period.
Scientists have traced the origin of the pachycephalosaurs to Asia, from where the group dispersed to North America.
The early ancestors of the Stygimoloch and other closely related North American pachycephalosaurs (such as Prenocephale and Pachycephalosaurus) migrated from Asia to North America via the Bering Land Bridge during the Early Cretaceous period.
Scientists believe a second migration took place later in the Cretaceous, this time from North America back to Asia.
This second wave led to the emergence of Asian genera like Prenocephale and Tylocephale.
The Asian and North American pachycephalosaurid species lived in completely different environments and evolved differently.
Older members of this group had less-developed skull domes and less prominent cranial ornamentation.
Over time as they evolved, their cranial features became more elaborate, possibly as a result of sexual selection, which gave males with bigger domes an advantage during intraspecific combat.
Very few fossils of the Stygimoloch have been found so far. The first was discovered in Hell Creek, Montana, in 1983.
It was named by British Paleontologist Peter M. Galton and German Paleontologist Hans-Dieter Sues.
In 2007, scientists reviewed the morphology of the Stygimoloch and proposed that it was either a juvenile or female Pachycephalosaurus.
In 2016, scientists discovered two baby dinosaur skulls in the Hell Creek formation and assigned them to the Pachycephalosaurus genus.
The similarity between these two bones and that of the Stygimoloch is another piece of evidence that they were probably the same dinosaur or very closely related.
Interaction With Other Species
Interior North America was teeming with dinosaurs during the Late Cretaceous, and many of them would have interacted with the Stygimoloch in some ways.
As a herbivore, Stygimoloch had to deal with predation from larger carnivore dinosaurs like the tyrannosaurs.
The famous Tyrannosaurus rex lived in the same region of North America around the same period and would have routinely preyed on herbivores like this one.
Stygimoloch may have used its gnarly horns for defense against similar-sized predators. Still, it probably didn’t stand a chance against bigger ones like the T. rex.
Stygimoloch would also have had to compete with other herbivorous dinosaurs present in its ecosystem for food and other resources.
This could include other members of the pachycephalosaur family as well as unrelated dinosaurs such as the Triceratops, hadrosaurs, and other herbivorous species.
Within the pachycephalosaur family, Stygimoloch probably competed with Dracorex (and Pachycephalosaurus if they’re not the same species.
These species occupied similar ecological niches, and they have all been found within the Hell Creek formation around the same period.
Stygimoloch remains a controversial dinosaur in the scientific community due to the uncertainty about his relationship with Pachycephalosaurus and other members of the Pachycephalosauridae family.
Further fossil evidence might be needed to unravel the relationship between these two dinosaur genera.
Bone histology and other growth pattern studies may help shed more light on how these dinosaurs grew and potentially changed both in morphology and ecological roles over their lifespan.
Getting a conclusive answer to the question of how these dinosaurs are related will aid our understanding of the growth pattern of the dinosaurs in the Pachycephalosauridae family.
The significance of the dinosaur’s skull dome is another interesting topic of conversations relating to this dinosaur.
Different theories have been put forward as scientists continue to look for clues to accurately explain the purpose of these head ornaments.
Although Stygimoloch is less popular with the general public, Pachycephalosaurus has made several appearances in movies, television shows, and video games.
The dinosaur was first depicted in the 1993 Jurassic Park movie, where it was depicted as a herding herbivore.
Pachycephalosaurus also made appearances in two more Jurassic Park films, including the 1997 “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” (1997) and “Jurassic World” movie from 2015
Pachycephalosaurus has also appeared in “The Land Before Time” animated film series, BBC’s “Walking with Dinosaurs” documentary, video games, and several educational materials.
The distinctive domed skull and spiky horns on its head is the major reason why the Styx demon is so popular.
Although the specific identity of this dinosaur is still a bit controversial, we do know that a fierce-looking medium-sized Stygimoloch lived in the interior region of North America during the Late Cretaceous.
It was a Pachycephalosaurid, and there’s a chance it was the juvenile form of the more famous Pachycephalosaurus that lived in the same region shortly before all the non-avian dinosaurs went extinct.
Hopefully, ongoing scientific research will answer the lingering questions about the dinosaur’s identity and relationship with some of its closest relatives in the future.
What does the name “Stygimoloch” mean?
The name “Stygimoloch” is derived from Greek words. “Styx” refers to the river in Greek mythology that separates the world of the living from the underworld, and “moloch” means “king” or “ruler.”
Therefore, “Stygimoloch” can be interpreted as “Styx ruler” or “king of the underworld.”
When did Stygimoloch go extinct?
Stygimoloch went extinct about 65 million years ago. The dinosaur went extinct along with the other non-avian dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous period.
Was the Stygimoloch a real dinosaur?
Yes. Stygimoloch was a real plant-eating dinosaur that lived during the Late Cretaceous between 68 and 65 million years ago.
The only controversy about this dinosaur’s identity is its relationship with the Pachycephalosaurus.