Parasaurolophus (pronounced /ˌpærəsɔˈrɒləfəs/ PARR-ə-saw-ROL-ə-fəs, commonly also /ˌpærəˌsɔrəˈloʊfəs/ PARR-ə-SAWR-ə-LOH-fəs; meaning "near crested lizard" in reference to Saurolophus) is a genus of ornithopod dinosaur from the Late Cretaceous Period of what is now North America, about 76-73 million years ago. It was a herbivore that walked both as a biped and a quadruped. Three species are recognized: P. walkeri (the type species), P. tubicen, and the short-crested P. cyrtocristatus. Remains are known from Alberta, Canada, and New Mexico and Utah, USA. It was first described in 1922 by William Parks from a skull and partial skeleton in Alberta.
Parasaurolophus is a hadrosaurid, part of a diverse family of Cretaceous dinosaurs known for their range of bizarre head adornments. This genus is known for its large, elaborate cranial crest, which at its largest forms a long curved tube projecting upwards and back from the skull. Charonosaurus from China, which may have been its closest relative, had a similar skull and potentially a similar crest. The crest has been much discussed by scientists; the consensus is that major functions included visual recognition of both species and sex, acoustic resonance, and thermoregulation. It is one of the rarer duckbills, being known from only a handful of good specimens.
Parasaurolophus is among the most well-recognized dinosaurs, and is frequently portrayed in dinosaur-related television shows, movies, books, merchandise and other media. In the Land Before Time series, there are many Parasaurolophus featured. The main character Ducky and her family (excluding Spike, her adopted Stegosaurus brother), have been said to be Parasaurolophus on merchandise and on the main website. However, they bear more resemblance to another dinosaur, Saurolophus, and are called Saurolophus on the Sing-Along Songs video.
As is the case with most dinosaurs, the skeleton of Parasaurolophus is incompletely known. The length of the type specimen of P. walkeri is estimated at 9.5 meters (31 ft). Its skull is about 1.6 meters (5.2 ft) long, including the crest, whereas the type skull of P. tubicen is over 2.0 meters (6.6 ft) long, indicating a larger animal. Its weight is estimated at 2.5 tonnes (2.7 tons). Its single known forelimb was relatively short for a hadrosaurid, with a short but wide shoulder blade. The thighbone measures 103 centimeters (3.38 ft) long in P. walkeri and is robust for its length when compared to other hadrosaurids. The upper arm and pelvic bones were also heavily built.
Like other hadrosaurids, it was able to walk on either two legs or four. It probably preferred to forage for food on four legs, but ran on two. The neural spines of the vertebrae were tall, as was common in lambeosaurines; tallest over the hips, they increased the height of the back. Skin impressions are known for P. walkeri, showing uniform tubercle-like scales but no larger structures.
The most noticeable feature was the cranial crest, which protruded from the rear of the head and was made up of the premaxilla and nasal bones. The P. walkeri type specimen has a notch in the neural spines near where the crest would hit the back, but this may be a pathology peculiar to this individual. William Parks, who named the genus, hypothesized that a ligament ran from the crest to the notch to support the head. Although the idea seems unlikely, Parasaurolophus is sometimes restored with a skin flap from the crest to the neck.
The crest was hollow, with distinct tubes leading from each nostril to the end of the crest before reversing direction and heading back down the crest and into the skull. The tubes were simplest in P. walkeri, and more complex in P. tubicen, where some tubes were blind and others met and separated. While P. walkeri and P. tubicen had long crests with only slight curvature, P. cyrtocristatus had a short crest with a more circular profile.
As its name implies, Parasaurolophus was initially thought to be closely related to Saurolophus because of its superficially similar crest. However, it was soon reassessed as a member of the lambeosaurine subfamily of hadrosaurids—Saurolophus is an hadrosaurine. It is usually interpreted as a separate offshoot of the lambeosaurines, distinct from the helmet-crested Corythosaurus, Hypacrosaurus, and Lambeosaurus. Its closest known relative appears to be Charonosaurus, a lambeosaurine with a similar skull (but no complete crest yet) from the Amur region of northeastern China, and the two may form a clade Parasaurolophini. P. cyrtocristatus, with its short, rounder crest, may be the most basal of the three known Parasaurolophus species, or it may represent subadult or female specimens of P. tubicen.
Many hypotheses have been advanced as to what functions the cranial crest of Parasaurolophus performed, but most have been discredited. It is now believed that it may have had several functions: visual display for identifying species and sex, sound amplification for communication, and thermoregulation. It is not clear which was most significant at what times in the evolution of the crest and its internal nasal passages.
Differences between species and growth stages
As for other lambeosaurines, it is believed that the cranial crest of Parasaurolophus changed with age and was a sexually dimorphic characteristic in adults. James Hopson, one of the first researchers to describe lambeosaurine crests in terms of such distinctions, suggested that P. cyrtocristatus, with its small crest, was the female form of P. tubicen. Thomas Williamson suggested it was the juvenile form. Neither hypothesis became widely accepted. As only six good skulls and one juvenile braincase are known, additional material will help clear up these potential relationships. Williamson noted that in any case, juvenile Parasaurolophus probably had small, rounded crests like P. cyrtocristatus, that probably grew faster as individuals approached maturity. Recent restudy of a juvenile braincase previously assigned to Lambeosaurus, and now assigned to Parasaurolophus, provides evidence that a small tubular crest was present in juveniles. This specimen preserves a small upward flaring of the frontal bones that was similar to but smaller than what is seen in adult specimens; in adults, the frontals formed a platform that supported the base of the crest. This specimen also indicates that the growth of the crest in Parasaurolophus and the facial profile of juvenile individuals differed from the Corythosaurus-Hypacrosaurus-Lambeosaurus model, in part because the crest of Parasaurolophus lacks the thin bony 'coxcomb' that makes up the upper portion of the crest of the other three lambeosaurines.
Parasaurolophus in The Land Before Time
Parasaurolophus is a prominently-featured genus in The Land Before Time films and television series. Many Parasaurolophus characters have been featured, mostly as background characters or characters with one-liner appearances. Some Parasaurolophus are shown to be members of Bron's herd.
The main character Ducky, her parents, and her biological siblings have been identified as Parasaurolophus on the official Land Before Time website, and on many pieces of merchandise. However, they are identified as Saurolophus on the Land Before Time Sing-Along Songs video. There is also much persistence from the fans of the series that the characters are more congruent in appearance to Saurolophus, due to the shortness and upwards angle of their crests. These inconsistencies have cause much dispute among fans.
Reviewers of the series frequently mistake them to be Anatosaurus (which is officially Edmontosaurus). However, they have apparently failed to note that, while Edmontosaurus (Anatosaurus) did have a head crest, it was in the center of its head and not large and curved back like that of Parasaurolophus.
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- Hopson, James A. 1975. The evolution of cranial display structures in hadrosaurian dinosaurs , from the Journal of Paleobiology, volume one, issue one, pages 21–43.
- Evans, David C., Reisz, Robert R.; and Dupuis, Kevin, 2007. A juvenile Parasaurolophus braincase from Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta, with comments on crest ontogeny in the genus. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, vol. 27, issue 3 pages 642–650.
- Official Land Before Time website.
- Revision history of Ducky's Wikipedia article; specifically edits in which users call her a Saurolophus instead of a Parasaurolophus. (November 14th, 2006) (January 5th, 2007) (February 26th, 2007) (May 22nd, 2007) (July 13th, 2007) (August 26th, 2007.) (25th September, 2007.) Originally retrieved on April 17th/18th, 2008.
- Revision history of The Land Before Time's Wikipedia article; specifically edits in which users call her a Saurolophus instead of a Parasaurolophus. (September 28th, 2008) (August 10th, 2005) Originally retrieved on November 28th, 2008.
- Mary Kalin-Casey review on The Big Freeze
- Joe Leydon's review of Journey Through the Mists
- British journalist MJ Simpson's review of The Land Before Time II: The Great Valley Adventure, on his official website. Retrieved on December 4th, 2008.
- The Animated Movie Guide by Jerry Beck. Published 2005, Chicago Review Press. ISBN 1556525915 Page 138.
- From Abba to Zoom: A Pop Culture Encyclopedia of the Late 20th Century by David Mansour. Published 2005 Andrews McMeel Publishing. ISBN 0740751182 Page 272.
- Scientists Use Digital Paleontology to Produce Voice of Parasaurolophus Dinosaur; from Sandia National Laboratories.
- Restorations of P. walkeri and P. cyrtocristatus, to the same scale, by Scott Hartman; at Skeletal Drawing.com.
- Parasaurolophus page on Enchanted Learning.com